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City tells county: Watering deal is off

Tampa says it won't enforce Hillsborough's watering rules unless they are uniform.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


TAMPA -- It was supposed to get the city and county walking arm-in-arm for a change when it came to watering restrictions -- at least partly.

County staffers said they would adopt city watering rules in areas of unincorporated Hillsborough County that use city of Tampa water. In return, the city of Tampa would take on the responsibility of policing for violators in those parts of the county.

But then the proposal went to the County Commission, which tweaked the rules for people with new lawns, creating a new class of citizens with a unique mix of restrictions.

Now the city says the deal is off.

In a letter to county commissioners Monday, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's top consultant urged county commissioners to reconsider their vote. Ron Rotella said the county's adoption of less restrictive rules would make achieving water use reductions more difficult while causing enforcement difficulties.

So the city won't sign an agreement to take on enforcement until the rules are made uniform.

"How are we going to explain to city residents that they can't water but one day a week on new vegetation but county residents who use water supplied by the city can water every day?" Rotella said.

The proposal affects nearly 30,000 homes in unincorporated Hillsborough County, taking in some of the area's fastest-growing communities, such as New Tampa and Town 'N Country. It comes in response to recurring citizen complaints that the varying water rules of different governments make them hard to follow.

After negotiations between staffs, county commissioners voted April 18 to adopt most of the city's rules, including its Sunday/Tuesday watering schedule.

But Commissioner Ronda Storms objected to city rules that grant no special exceptions for people with new lawns. She cited agricultural recommendations from the University of Florida that suggest new lawns need at least a month of daily watering, and another month of frequent watering, to take root.

Most of the commissioners agreed, voting to let people with new lawns water their yards daily for 30 days and then every other day for the next 30. New lawn owners in the city are allowed to water their yards only once a week like everyone else.

County Commissioner Jan Platt was alone in saying the distinct rules for people within the city's water service area would create an "enforcement nightmare."

Storms hadn't seen Rotella's letter when reached late Monday. But she said her recommendation was based on science.

"The University of Florida has no dog in this hunt," she said. "They're completely neutral."

Rotella agreed with Platt in his letter to commissioners. And he said the less restrictive rules would make it difficult for the city to achieve the 5 percent reduction in water use that the Southwest Florida Water Management District is seeking.

Because the areas in question are growing so quickly, the rule makes a big difference, Rotella said.

"Our point is, don't put in the lawn right now," Rotella said. "We're asking developers not to put in new landscaping . . . until the drought is over."

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