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New water rules for the weary

Residents in unincorporated Hillsborough get new restrictions, including no watering on weekends.

Times coverage
Current watering rules

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000

TAMPA -- Water officials worried what might happen this Sunday, should half the county's 90,000 customers run their sprinklers at the same time.

Water pressure could plummet.

Drinking water could become contaminated, forcing whole neighborhoods to boil water.

Firefighters, arriving at the scene of a blaze, might not be able to pump water fast enough from hydrants.

So in an emergency move taken to prevent such a dire scene, Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday banned residents in the unincorporated county from watering their lawns on weekends.

 [Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
The eastern shore of Lake Magdalene in northern Hillsborough County is an example of how a lack of rain has affected the Tampa Bay area. Boats and docks are left high and dry. From Jan. 1 through April 30, Swiftmud's central region, which includes Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, recorded 4.08 inches of rain.

Beginning this morning, people who live outside the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City can water their lawns legally on only one day, Monday through Friday, either before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m., depending on the last digit in their address.

Officials are serious about enforcing the rules, too.

After a two-week grace period, the commission will double fines for first- and second-time violators to $70. After that, people who break the restrictions get fined $500 .

Violators can be turned in on the county's water hotline, which has been jammed with about 150 calls a day. The number is (813) 224-8993. Commissioners acted Wednesday after being told the county's water supply system might collapse under the burden of the old system, when millions of gallons of water were pumped on each of the two legal watering days.

The crisis got serious Sunday when thousands of residents ran their sprinkler systems all at once. That day, the county pumped a record 81.2-million gallons of water.

Inside the control center Sunday at the water department's plant in Lithia, Arnold Becken, the section manager for water operations, was watching computer readings go off the charts.

"We had everything running, and the pressure was still dropping," Becken said.

Engineer James Jeffers II joked that officials inside the center were biting their nails and praying for rain.

The county's water supply system did not have enough lines and pumps to handle the pent-up demand.

"If we had all the water in the world, we could not put any more water through the lines," assistant county administrator Anthony Shoemaker said.

On March 17, the commission limited watering to Tuesdays and Sundays. Every Sunday since then, the county's demand for water has grown by about 3-million gallons.

That's why they wanted to reduce the strain by spreading out watering over the work week.

They said they are aware it's yet another set of rules for people to remember. "We know this is going to be confusing," Shoemaker said.

In the suburban neighborhood of North Lakes by Northdale, resident Irene Jones complained that shuffling water days will "be a real pain."

Another resident, Andrea Fernandez, whose yard on Gardenside Lane was turning brown, talked about the tangible effects of the drought.

"Look at my lime tree," Jones said, pointing to a wilting tree. "This time last year, we would have had limes and would have been drinking Coronas."

- If you have questions about the new water rules, call (813) 275-7094.

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