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County struggles with watering rules

Confusion over the new restrictions abounds, water pressure is dipping alarmingly low, and enforcement is a problem.

Times coverage
Current watering rules

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000

INVERNESS -- Citrus County Attorney Larry Haag said Tuesday that the county's 911 center was being inundated by up to 1,000 calls a day from residents confused by watering restrictions or trying to report neighbors.

On Wednesday, Citrus County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan said the number of calls has tapered to a trickle. She added that the volume of calls has not hampered emergency response to more urgent calls.

What appears clear is that confusion still reigns over water restrictions enacted last month by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, making enforcement difficult, Haag said. And the picture may get muddier still in the coming weeks.

In related news, the Homosassa Special Water District has won approval for its own variation on the restrictions that spreads the once-a-week lawn watering limit over five days. And the county is in the process of seeking a variance from Swiftmud to enact something similar to Homosassa's scheme.

Currently, the Sheriff's Office, which is charged with enforcing the limits, is issuing oral or written warnings when a deputy catches someone, Evan said. Deputies are being told to use their discretion in deciding whether to issue a citation if they catch someone more than once. A violation is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

"Someone who continues to not be in compliance, the deputy will figure out how to deal with that," Evan said.

Residents are urged to call the Sheriff's Office non-emergency number to report an offender: 726-4488. Swiftmud has is own hot line to field questions, (800) 848-0499.

"Until we can get this confusion out of the way, I don't know how you're expected to enforce it," Haag said.

In Homosassa, the water district superintendent, David Purnell, said he filed for a variance after noticing the sharp spike in water use Tuesday, one of the primary watering days allowed under Swiftmud's new restrictions.

The Homosassa district's 4,250 customers used more than 1-million gallons, well over the 600,000-gallon-per-day average before the temporary watering limits went into effect.

On Tuesday, the Citrus County Commission also moved in that direction, voting to apply to Swiftmud for the same scheduling variance as the Homosassa district.

"We're really losing pressure at the end of our system during watering times (at) Riverhaven and Mason Creek," Purnell said.

Except for a few cases, Purnell said, people are following the once-per-week restriction. Some people have received warning letters, but most of them are winter visitors who set their sprinkler systems and leave.

"We're trying to get word out now," he said. "We're going to put out some ads in the newspaper, get an ad on the cable company. We're going to do another mailout, and we may even go door to door."

The loss of pressure represents more than an inconvenience for residents, Purnell said. The situation poses a health threat because pressure loss can lead to a back-flow of water into the system.

Normal pressure is 50 pounds per square inch. Pressure on Tuesday dropped to 28 pounds per square inch, barely above the danger level.

The district is trying to cooperate with water providers and users, Swiftmud spokesman Mike Molligan said. As of Wednesday, it was reviewing nearly 60 variance applications throughout the 16-county district.

Florida Water Services, which supplies thousands of Citrus residents, is urging customers to abide by any restrictions, spokesman Tracy Smith said.

"Our interest is in reducing water usage," Molligan said. "It'll just make it easier on the suppliers to address pressure problems."

Haag said the county is seeking the terms spelled out in a 1991 agreement with Swiftmud over how water restrictions should be handled in emergency times. Molligan said he wasn't aware of the terms of that agreement, but said his agency would work with the county.

Haag said the county would soon send a letter seeking a variance to the current restrictions.

Tapping into water use restrictions

Here are the water use restrictions by the Southwest Florida Water Management District that went into effect May 1 and last through June 30 in 16 counties the agency oversees.

Residents and business owners may water their yards and plants once a week.

People who have addresses that end in an even number may water on Tuesdays, either before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., not both.

People with odd numbered addresses must follow the same time constraints on Sundays. The amount of water is supposed to be limited to three-quarters of an inch.

Residents or business owners who get their water from Citrus County government or Florida Water Services have different rules.

Those customers whose addresses end in 2, 4 or 6 may water on Tuesdays, same times: before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Residents whose addresses end in 1, 3 or 5 have Sundays to water their lawn. People with an address ending in 7, 8, 9 or 0 may water their yard on Mondays.

New rules are in effect for residents in the Homosassa Special Water District. People with addresses ending in 0 or 1 can water on Monday; addresses ending in 2 or 3, on Tuesday; addresses ending in 4 or 5, on Wednesday; addresses ending in 6 or 7, on Thursday; and addresses ending in 8 or 9, on Friday. Watering is prohibited from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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