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    Water may be scarce, but rules flow freely

    The labyrinth of watering regulations has foiled the good intentions of many water users.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


    Enrique Almirall was washing his white Cadillac on Friday afternoon until it gleamed.

    Not many 86-year-olds still wash their own cars, he said.

    And, he pointed out, he was cutting off the water whenever he soaped the car, being so careful that his driveway was barely wet.

    He said he takes the same care to conserve when watering his lawn, skipping weeks when his grass looks okay and making sure to only water on his assigned day, Saturday.

    Oops.

    Almirall was surprised to learn that, because he lives at an even address in unincorporated Pinellas County, he's supposed to water only on Tuesdays.

    "I want to abide by the law," he said. "I don't want to do anything wrong."

    Almirall's mistake might be understandable. A few weeks ago, he said, a Pinellas County sheriff's car stopped by just as he turned off his sprinkler. The officer asked if he had been watering.

    "I said, "Yes, Saturday is my watering day,' " Almirall said. Then he said the officer turned to his partner.

    "He said to the other cop, "See that? Saturday is his watering day,' and drove off."

    Why the confusion? If Almirall lived across the street, his day would be Sunday. If he had a well, he could water two hours later, and start two hours earlier. In Belleair, his day would be Wednesday. In Dunedin, his hours would be different.

    Oh, and if he were only lucky enough to have reclaimed water, he could water any time at all. Unless he lived in Clearwater or Tarpon Springs, where even reclaimed water can't be used between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

    Got that?

    Don't feel bad. Almirall's neighbors don't get it either -- several water on Wednesdays, he said, instead of Sunday. Across the bay, Tampa recently surveyed its water customers and discovered that 51 percent couldn't name their watering day.

    County Commissioner Bob Stewart feels their pain.

    "It's very confusing and complicated," he said. "But I'm not sure how to resolve that."

    Commissioner Karen Seel said local governments should work together to make things easier.

    "I think it would be very wise to have everyone sit down and come up with one water policy," she said.

    But Stewart thinks it's unlikely that they all would agree.

    "Having a common restriction and penalty would make sense, but there's nothing that we've dealt with water over the years that has had much common sense," he said.

    Last week, commissioners decided too many people might be confused about the rules to start fining residents the first time they're caught breaking the rules. The county warns residents once before handing out fines.

    The most common rule is to allow even addresses to water on Tuesdays and odd numbers on Sundays, before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

    But throughout the county, water managers said there are reasons that the rules differ.

    Belleair spreads its watering over five days because water pressure drops too much if half the town waters on the same day. Clearwater officials think it's wasteful to allow irrigation even with reclaimed water during the heat of the day, when more evaporates.

    And Dunedin, with watering days on Tuesdays and Fridays, started once-a-week restrictions in 1992, long before the rest of the county.

    "It would have been nice if they had set their schedule to match ours, but nobody asked," said Bob Brotherton, public works and utilities director.

    Brotherton agreed that there is a "confusion factor." But he also said that if people don't know, they should ask.

    "There's a certain amount of responsibility for the homeowner to call the utility in their town and find out," he said.

    Andy Neff, Clearwater's public utilities director, agreed. He pointed to all the ways Clearwater residents could learn their water rules. Read a city news release. Check the city Web site. Call the city.

    "On our public TV station, we've done a show discussing water-conservation restrictions," he said.

    But Clearwater resident Meral Adiguezal hasn't been watching. Adiguezal said she's been very careful to water only once a week. Just for half an hour, she said, and she skips if it has rained.

    Did Adiguezal check with the city to find out that she should water on Tuesday?

    "I see my neighbor water Saturday morning," she said. "I follow the neighborhood. I water Saturday too."

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