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Hernando wants waiver on water rules

The county administrator says Swiftmud didn't discuss changes with local officials before adopting new limits.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- New once-a-week sprinkling rules might not last long in Hernando County.

County Administrator Paul McIntosh plans to ask the Southwest Florida Water Management District to waive the restrictions for Hernando, arguing they are too difficult to enforce.

"Twice a week sounds good to me since we already have a pretty good handle on it," McIntosh said.

He assigned Utilities Director Kay Adams to send a variance request to Swiftmud, which set the limitations Tuesday.

"We'd certainly review any request," Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said.

The agency had received nothing in writing from the county by Wednesday afternoon, but officials from Swiftmud and the county met late Tuesday to talk about options.

Leaders in other Tampa Bay area counties also complained that Swiftmud failed to consult them before changing the rules, parts of which they considered unenforceable.

But the changes affected most of the counties only minimally, and they had no plans to follow Hernando's lead.

Inverness Public Works Director Bill Thatcher applauded Swiftmud's decision but said his staff needed to work out the details of who would enforce the watering restrictions.

Pick Talley, director of utilities for Pinellas County, said he was surprised by Swiftmud's action because the agency had previously declined to further restrict water use. Talley said his department does not have any way to enforce a three-quarter-inch watering restriction, but the department would put the word out about restrictions on well watering.

"We're not sure in Pinellas County the well use is a problem anyway. Well use doesn't affect any aquifer or any lakes or wetlands that are under stress," he said. "But if that's what Swiftmud wants to do and they ask us to enforce the regulations, I'm sure we'd do it."

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said he likes Swiftmud's new regulations, which will trim St. Petersburg's private well sprinklers to just one day per week. Just a couple of weeks ago, Fischer proposed restrictions for St. Petersburg that allowed private well users to keep watering two days a week.

But the tighter restrictions will help prolong the life of larger irrigation wells, Fischer said.

"Usually it takes about a year to see the effects of a drought on the wells," he said, "We're starting now to see the effects of last summer."

Pasco County's water regulations already mirror those approved Tuesday by Swiftmud: Residents of the unincorporated county may water one day a week in the early morning or evening hours. Addresses ending in even numbers water on Tuesday, and those ending in odd numbers water on Sunday. The restrictions extend even to those residents and businesses that have their own wells, but those hooked up to reclaimed water are exempt.

Tampa water officials say they have no plans to loosen the city's strict water restrictions to bring them in line with new rules set by the Swiftmud. The restrictions are needed, they said, because the city relies primarily on the Hillsborough River, which has flowed at record low levels since February.

The city's reservoir has remained at stable levels in recent weeks, thanks to conservation and the diversion of water from Sulphur Springs and the Tampa Bypass Canal.

Hillsborough County has made one change to its restrictions: New plantings or sod can now be watered for 60 days instead of 30.

Government agencies have received variances in the past to spread the watering over several days. That way, they have avoided too much demand on one day, Molligan said.

"As long as any one area is not getting more than one application a week, then we can work it out," he said.

Only one municipality in Swiftmud's 16-county region has won a total exemption from the restrictions established in 1992 and 1993. The city of Punta Gorda in Charlotte County gets its water from Shell Creek and had no problems with its supply.

But the latest rules apply to Punta Gorda, too.

"Levels are down all over, so the district didn't make exceptions in what it passed," Molligan said.

McIntosh said he hopes Swiftmud will grant Hernando's request. After all, he noted, the agency did not discuss the changes with county leaders ahead of time.

"We were pretty upset that Swiftmud did not communicate their intent to us earlier," McIntosh said. "We went through a lot to ensure proper implementation of the twice-a-week (regulations) and did a real good public awareness campaign to remind people that they should only water on those specific days. Now Swiftmud wants to cut it to one day, and we have real problems."

Watering once a week might cause water pressure problems if all people water at the same time, which might hinder firefighting abilities, he said. The new rules also limit the quantity of water to no more than three-quarters of an inch per zone while also exempting flower beds, vegetable gardens and other non-lawn areas.

"How do we police that?" McIntosh said.

Also, many seasonal residents have headed home after setting their sprinkler timers for the twice-a-week rule, said Code Enforcement Director Frank McDowell III.

"Those people should not be penalized," Hernando County Commissioner Nancy Robinson said. "When they were here, they certainly were compliant."

Other Hernando commissioners saw fewer problems with the restrictions and said the county should do its part during the dry season.

For now, the Swiftmud restrictions remain in effect. All watering must occur between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. If a local government has set stricter rules, those will prevail.

-- Times staff writers Bryan Gilmer, Edie Gross, Bridget Hall, Steve Huettel and Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.

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