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    Sip by sip, guzzlers try to cut water use

    Some of Pinellas' biggest consumers say it will be difficult to conserve more than they already have.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


    Waiters at the Clearwater Beach Hilton refill your water glass only when you ask.

    Inmates at the Pinellas County Jail shower with three-minute timers. Workers at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg blow dirt off golf carts with an air hose before washing them.

    Across Pinellas, the county's largest business and government water users are looking to conserve. Some say they've cut back and there's little else they can do.

    Sprinklers from the Vinoy to the Westin Innisbrook Resort spray lawns and golf courses with reclaimed water.

    Fountains at On Top of the World condominiums have been turned off.

    "Really, it's going to be hard to cut more," said Kenneth Colen, chairman of the condo association there. "If we can think of a way, we will."

    Most of the large users are hotels or condos, where managers say they always use more water this time of year because more tourists are here.

    For hotels, hospitals and power plants, reducing water use isn't as easy as turning off the sprinkler.

    "There's a point at which the choice is to use water or not produce the power," said Florida Power spokesman Mac Harris.

    So, as the county tries to cut its water use by 5 percent, utility directors will keep telling homeowners to cut back. That's where the biggest cuts can be made, county Utilities Director Pick Talley said.

    Pinellas has few industries or large commercial users. About 95 percent of users are homeowners or small businesses, he said.

    The county also is trying to figure out why its largest residential customers are using so much water, Talley said.

    Meanwhile, some of the big users say they're looking for creative ways to save.

    In Dunedin, the Minute Maid Co. plant is the city's biggest customer. Last year, the company used about 5.1-million gallons of water each month. That's down from 5.6-million per month in 1997, and the company hopes to cut another 12 percent this year.

    Since 1997, the company has switched to reclaimed water outside and has started new leak-detection tests for its water pipes. Now it's trying to cut the amount of water it uses when it switches from one flavor of juice drink to another.

    "We're really trying our best to do this," Minute Maid spokesman Bill Marks said.

    From the county jail to the Westin, maintenance people have cut water flow in the toilets.

    At the Vinoy, chefs have started defrosting food in coolers a day early instead of thawing it under hot water, general manager Russ Bond said.

    "If we've done 100 things, there are probably 50 more we can do," Bond said. "They're the dribs and drabs, but they add up."

    At the Westin, golf course caretakers say they're cutting back on reclaimed water. The resort's four courses are watered twice a week, but landscapers have begun skipping days and watering dry patches by hand instead of turning on the sprinkler system, engineering director Sally Lochmondy said.

    Big users also pointed out that their water serves a lot of people. Fort De Soto Park serves 2.9-million visitors each year. On Top of the World is the county utility's biggest customer, but it has 10,000 residents. Its 23-million gallons of water per month works out to about 76 gallons each day per resident -- less than the daily county average of 110 gallons per person.

    With 2,800 inmates at the jail, its 5.1-million gallons per month is even more spartan: about 61 gallons per prisoner each day. The jail switched to timers because inmates were leaving the showers running. Inmates are allowed to shower as long as reasonably needed.

    Pinellas County Utilities is about to take a closer look at its water users, Talley said.

    The county plans to hire someone to do "water audits" for its biggest customers. The auditor will visit larger locations and suggest ways to conserve further.

    "Hopefully we can convince them it's in their best interest," Talley said.

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