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Quick -- which is your day to water?

A survey finds that most Tampa water customers asked that question are clueless, despite a public information campaign.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


TAMPA -- If you're confused about the water restrictions, you're not alone. More than half of the Tampa water customers who responded to a recent survey did not know the day of the week they can legally water their lawn.

The city has made enforcement of its once-a-week watering restrictions a key element of its campaign against the drought. But the survey, involving 502 random phone calls to residents in mid March, found that 51 percent either stated the wrong watering day, or admitted they didn't know the right one.

Depending on the address, the city allows watering during certain hours only on Tuesdays or Sundays, while the county permits it for certain hours one day a week from Monday through Friday. Which restrictions apply are particularly confusing for those who live on county territory but must obey city restrictions because they receive city water, said India Williams, consumer affairs manager of the Tampa Water Department.

Williams called the survey "humbling," considering the intensive public-information campaign the department has undertaken in recent months. The vast majority were aware of the drought, the survey found, but fewer than half knew when they could water.

"The minute you think you've done everything you can, you see a survey that tells you you haven't," Williams said. "We've got a lot more work to do."

Asked how the city could make water restrictions more fair, 10 percent of those surveyed suggested eliminating watering exceptions for businesses. (Golf courses, for instance, are allowed to water more liberally than private residents, on the logic that their business cannot survive without it.)

Eight percent suggested slowing the rate of growth -- an idea that remains anathema to city leaders. Mayor Dick Greco contends it would be economically disastrous.

"A lot of people like to say, 'I'm here, I've got mine, it would be best if no one else came,' " Greco said. "The problem is not new construction. It's a very unusual weather pattern."

Greco said the number of people unaware of their watering days didn't surprise him.

"A lot of people are just oblivious and want to be left alone," Greco said.

Decision Strategies Group, the company that conducted the survey, recommended that the city increase efforts to tell residents of the consequences of the drought, enlist Mayor Greco in giving more televised drought-related messages and work to eliminate the perception that large water users such as businesses get special treatment.

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com.

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