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    Cutting water use not easy for board

    Pinellas commissioners struggle to get their own water bills below the county's average of 8,000 gallons per month.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


    Pinellas County commissioners didn't have any trouble passing more rules to cut county water use and help fight Tampa Bay's drought.

    But cutting their own water bills has been a little tougher.

    Commissioner Susan Latvala had workers searching her home and swimming pool Friday for a leak.

    Commissioner Karen Seel had to stop watering her lawn entirely to get her water bill below the county average. Ken Welch had to get a leaky valve repaired, and John Morroni's water use lately has gone the wrong direction -- up.

    Latvala's water bill for the past year averages 27,000 gallons per month, more than three times the 8,000-gallon average of the county's single-family water customers.

    "I've got a herd of people coming to my house," Latvala said. "The swimming pool guy is here as we speak, putting on a wet suit."

    Latvala said she and her husband, state Sen. Jack Latvala, knew they had a leak in the pool last summer and had work done to fix it. Since then, they've noticed their water bills were high and that their pool water seemed to evaporate too fast.

    But they weren't sure there was a leak until reporters asked for commissioners' water bills. That prompted Pick Talley, county utilities director, to review them himself and tell Latvala that she probably has a leak.

    "You didn't expect me to say thank you," she said Friday. "I really am aghast. It's good that now we know and it'll be taken care of."

    The frustrating thing, Latvala said, is that her family has really tried to conserve. They've stopped watering the back yard and, when her husband is in Tallahassee during the legislative session, she does little cooking.

    Those cuts have had an impact. Latvala's last water bill dropped to 19,500 gallons per month. That's still more than twice the average user's, but far below the floodtide at Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's home last spring, when he was using more than 43,000 gallons each month.

    But the Latvalas had problems of their own then. They received a warning for watering at the wrong time one day last March -- at 2:15 a.m., when they weren't allowed to start until 5 a.m. They weren't fined since it was their first warning, they haven't had another violation since and Latvala wasn't a commissioner yet.

    Commissioners Calvin Harris, Barbara Sheen Todd, Bob Stewart and John Morroni all have managed to tally below-average water use. Morroni's water bill increased slightly, from an average of 5,750 gallons a month up to 6,000 gallons on his most recent bill.

    Seel has found conservation more difficult. With two teenage boys and a large lot, her family was using 11,550 gallons of water a month. Three months ago, they turned off the sprinkler system.

    "I said, "You know, with this drought, and with everything dying, we need to set an example,' " she said.

    Some of the front yard is hanging on, Seel said, but the back lawn is pretty much dead. The family's water use has dropped to 6,700 gallons per month.

    Welch said he's planning to xeriscape his lawn to end that problem. His water use was averaging a hefty 13,550 gallons each month until he realized there must be a leak and had a valve replaced. How much did it go down?

    "I think I threw the bill away," Welch said. "I'm digging through the garbage now."

    Fortunately, the city keeps its own records: last month Welch's family cut back to 9,800 gallons.

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