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Tampa won't relax water rules

Swiftmud's new limit to lawn watering only once a week is a restriction Hillsborough County and Tampa imposed last month.

By STEVE HUETTEL and JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


TAMPA -- 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 Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The agency on Tuesday limited lawn watering across its 16-county district to once a week, the same rule imposed last month by the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

Residents with odd-numbered addresses can water only on Sundays, those with even-numbered addresses can water only on Tuesdays.

Tampa's restrictions are tougher on other kinds of non-essential water use.

City residents and businesses can wash vehicles only at commercial car washes and cannot run decorative fountains or wash buildings, sidewalks and driveways. The city makes no water exemptions for newly installed sod or plants without a variance.

Tampa water officials say the restrictions are needed because the city relies primarily on the Hillsborough River, which has flowed at historically 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.

Elsewhere, government agencies are figuring out how to enforce the new rules, and at least one county wants an exemption.

Hernando County Administrator Paul McIntosh plans to ask Swiftmud to waive the restrictions for Hernando, arguing that they are too difficult to enforce.

"Twice a week sounds good to me since we already have a pretty good handle on it," said McIntosh, who assigned utilities director Kay Adams to file the variance request.

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

Swiftmud's new rules are scheduled to be in effect May 1 through June 30.

Leaders in some counties complained that Swiftmud failed to consult them before changing the rules, parts of which they consider unenforceable. But the changes only minimally affected most counties, and none plan to follow Hernando's lead.

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.

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said he likes Swiftmud's new regulations, which will limit private well watering 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 pro long 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.

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.

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.

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