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More watering limits a possibility

Officials in Tampa consider allowing homeowners to run their sprinklers only one day every other week.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


TAMPA -- Water use across Hillsborough County jumped significantly on legal lawn irrigation days this week, forcing city and county officials to consider even tougher restrictions.

After remaining steady through April, consumption by Tampa water customers hit 98-million gallons Sunday -- 10-million gallons more than the previous Sunday.

The same day, customers on Hillsborough County's water system used 76.8-million gallons, an increase of 8.4-million gallons over the previous Sunday.

That caused low water pressure for 57,500 customers from Brandon south to the Manatee County line, said John Fischer, a spokesman for the county Water Department. Pumps in the area pushed water through pipes as fast as they could from 6 to 9 p.m., he said.

City and county water officials believe the prolonged drought has people watering full-bore out of fear that wilting plants and brown lawns won't survive if they miss a weekly watering.

"In my neighborhood, I see people on my watering day running sprinklers in the morning and evening," said Marjorie Guillory, Tampa's deputy water director. "I think they're flipping out."

Odd-number addresses may water only on Sundays and even-number addresses on Tuesdays. But Tampa officials suspect some customers are flouting the once-a-week rules by watering both days.

City water inspectors had patrolled only on the five days when no one is allowed to water. That will change next week in an effort to catch scofflaws sneaking in an extra watering day Sunday or Tuesday, said Water Director David Tippin.

"Everyone will be out there watching on Sunday," he said.

In other communities, results of the latest restrictions have been mixed, but none have seen the same spikes in demand as Tampa and Hillsborough.

In St. Petersburg, daily potable and reclaimed water use dropped in April compared to the same month last year. Last April, residents used 39.34-million gallons of potable water a day compared with 37.13-million gallons last month. Use of reclaimed water went from 25.81-million gallons a day last year to 24.66-million gallons last month.

In Pinellas County, water usage on Tuesday, April 25, an approved watering day, was 84.61-million gallons, said Tim Wiley, director of customer service for Pinellas County Utilities. On Sunday, the other approved water day, water usage hit 89.59-million gallons. On Monday, a day when watering is banned, Wiley said, water usage dropped to 84.36-million gallons. Water usage on a non-watering day should average about 68-million gallons, he said.

Information from the Pasco County Utilities Department, the largest utility in the county, shows that a week after new restrictions started in late March, water demand went down 12 percent on off days and went up 6 percent on permitted watering days.

Overall, total demand was down 10 percent at the utility since restrictions were passed.

Communities say they are enforcing the tougher restrictions, but Joan Bradshaw, St. Petersburg's water conservation coordinator, wouldn't say when workers patrol neighborhoods.

"I prefer not to say a whole lot because Tampa announced theirs and then everybody changed their schedule around," she said.

"They're out there," Bradshaw added. "Let's put it that way."

In Hillsborough, city and county water officials are watching Sunday and Tuesday consumption and talking about what to do if peak demands keep rising.

The next step for Tampa customers would be cutting back lawn watering to one day every other week, Tippin said.

Hillsborough water officials are considering assigning some people a watering day other than Sunday or Tuesday to spread out the peak demand, Fischer said. Or they might move Sunday watering, always the highest demand day, to a weekday, he said.

But different water rules in Tampa, Hillsborough County and other Tampa Bay communities are already making some people's heads spin, Fischer said.

"We recognize if we're going to do that, the confusion would be horrendous," Fischer said.

-- Staff writers Leanora Minai, Christina K. Cosdon and Matthew Waite contributed to this report.

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