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Water rules sow confusion

New water restrictions limit lawn watering to once a week. Swiftmud's next challenge is to explain the restrictions to the public.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Emergency water restrictions descended like a cloud Monday upon a dry Citrus County suffering from parched soil, thirsty plants and low lake levels.

Imposed last week by Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board members concerned about continuing drought conditions, the restrictions now will need some explaining, judging by comments from some residents and local law enforcement.

The most prominent feature of the order limits lawn and landscape watering to one day per week. Both the district headquarters in Brooksville and the Citrus Utilities Division reported fielding numerous, but generally polite, calls about the restrictions.

For the district, which has set up a special hotline -- (800) 848-0499 -- to obtain information and report violators, the questions began inundating its lines last week.

According to water shortage coordinator Lois Sorensen, 1,735 calls were handled, many of them by three temporary workers hired specifically for the task.

The volume will go down in a couple of weeks as people become comfortable with the restrictions, she predicted.

"We're actually calling on staff from other departments to make sure we have all the lines covered," Sorensen said. "At any given time, we have six people on the phone.

"They're calling ahead to make sure they're doing the right thing," she said.

While making the announcement, the district put out an appeal to local governments and water suppliers to "aggressively" enforce the restrictions.

Sorensen said the district is counting on the close working relationship developed over the years with local governments to make this order, the first emergency restriction since the early 1990s, work. During the 1998-99 fiscal year, the district made 250 requests to local governments for assistance, records show.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office will make details of the order available to as many as 150 deputies by e-mail, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Gail Tierney said Monday. In addition, the restrictions will be posted at the county's emergency operations center building.

But the agency still needs clarification on whether enforcement will remain the same, Tierney said. In the past, she said, deputies have relied on issuing verbal and written warnings.

That has been standard practice, Sorensen said. About 90 percent of the cases are resolved by educating, or warning, water users with letters or a district brochure.

Ralph Neeley, chairman of the Sugarmill Woods Civic Association's Utilities Committee, wants information about the details of the order. Although flower beds, vegetable gardens and "non-lawn areas" can be watered more than once a week with hand irrigation and other low-use methods, he said he is wondering whether people can combat dry spots on their lawns with a single sprinkler.

He doubts the 3/4-inch water limit on lawns will keep those expensive lots as green as residents like.

"It doesn't make sense not to," he said. "You get an area 10 to 12 feet wide. . . . They're not going to let it die. My lawn cost over $3,000. I have no intentions of letting it die."

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