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Water level steady at reservoir

Tampa's water restrictions have helped, but a city official warns assistance from Mother Nature won't arrive until June.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


TAMPA -- Despite record-low flows in the Hillsborough River, Tampa is managing to keep its primary water supply stable, the city's water chief told the City Council Thursday.

While falling steadily before tougher water restrictions were imposed March 16, the level of the reservoir at the Hillsborough River water treatment plant has remained steady due to conservation and water from other sources, said Water Deparment Director David Tippin.

"The strategy has been to hold the reservoir level as long as we can," he said. "It's the only reserves we have."

Still, Tippin warned the drought-induced crisis is far from over.

Forecasters don't expect significant rain until June, he said. The river's flow has dropped since February.

As of Thursday, the river was flowing at a record low 18.9-million gallons a day.

Evaporation, already taking 20-million gallons daily from the river, will increase by 5-million gallons a day with higher seasonal temperatures, Tippin said.

If the supply shrinks further, he said, the city might resort to a complete ban on outdoor irrigation.

Water demand on days when irrigation is allowed averages 87-million gallons -- nearly 20-million gallons more than on non-watering days.

The tougher restrictions have helped, Tippin said. Average daily water use dropped 7.6 percent, to 71.5 million gallons, in the four weeks after restrictions were tightened compared to the previous four weeks, he said.

The emergency ordinance limits outdoor irrigation to once a week, outlaws washing vehicles anywhere except a commercial car wash, prohibits running decorative fountains and provides no extra watering for new sod or plants.

The restrictions alone, however, would not have kept the reservoir level.

About 15-million gallons a day are being diverted from the Tampa Bypass Canal, Tippin said. That amount should increase significantly as the city begins pumping water into the canal's middle pool, where it is withdrawn, from a pool farther south, he said.

Also, the city plans to pipe water from a spring near Fowler and Florida avenuesto the river south of the reservoir.

That will let the city increase to 20-million gallons the amount of water pumped daily from Sulphur Springs into the reservoir, Tippin said.

Water patrols have written 963 citations since the restrictions went into place, he said. The city has approved 104 variances to businesses and residents to ease the restrictions, denied eight and is reviewing 38 others, Tippin said.

- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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