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Swiftmud expands limits on watering

Once-a-week watering is now the rule districtwide, affecting mostly Citrus and Hernando and owners of private wells in Pinellas.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- For the first time since it imposed water restrictions seven years ago, the Southwest Florida Water Management District has tightened the rules, limiting residents to once-a-week lawn watering.

The restrictions have the most effect on the people in the district who don't already face once-a-week limits, including Citrus and Hernando county residents and owners of private wells in much of Pinellas County.

St. Petersburg, Pinellas and the 19 small cities that use county water restricted watering to once a week earlier in the spring but let those with private wells continue irrigating their lawns twice a week. Wells already were restricted to once a week by Tampa and Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Swiftmud's action, authorized Tuesday by the district's governing board, overrides the exemption for wells. It was prompted, as the original rules were in 1993, by a lingering drought that has dried up lakes and rivers throughout the 16-county district.

"We have worsening conditions, and water levels going down all over the district, and this is to address the short-term problems and get through to the rainy season," said Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan.

Across the district, rainfall has been about 20 percent below normal in the past year. Lakes are drier than they usually are at the end of the dry season, in early June. Flow in the Hillsborough River has reached a record low; flow also has approached an all-time low in the Withlacoochee.

These are the new restrictions:

Residents with even-numbered addresses may water only on Tuesday, odd-numbered addresses on Sunday. Watering is allowed only before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

In addition to restricting the times people can water, the district also limited the amount they can water to three-fourths of an inch per day. Though admittedly hard to enforce, this rule is intended to discourage people from taking advantage of their one watering day to give their lawns an excessive soaking, Molligan said.

New sod and landscaping are exempted from the restrictions for 60 days.

Cities and counties may impose rules that are stricter than Swiftmud's. In the city of Tampa, for example, there's no break on the restrictions for new landscaping. And some communities have more limited watering hours in effect.

Hernando and Citrus counties previously had declined to pass tougher restrictions, partly because they draw from different groundwater basins than the counties to the south, and because their groundwater was not as depleted as in other areas of the district.

But as Swiftmud continued to evaluate the effects of the drought, Molligan said, it became more and more clear it required districtwide action.

"There are apparently about four wells in Hernando County that are close to record lows, and lakes in the northern region of the district that are 3 feet below normal yearly lows," Molligan said.

"The conditions have just continued to get worse."

Hernando County commissioners offered no objections to Swiftmud's actions.

"Even though the county has done all it can (to enforce watering restrictions), we simply have to follow the rules," said Commission Chairman Paul Sullivan. "We have a major problem out there."

The governing board chose not to limit the use of reclaimed water but asked residents to avoid watering with it in the middle of the day.

New restrictions also apply to agricultural and commercial uses.

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