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Tampa's water crisis getting worse

As lawn watering usage inches up, the flow from the river shrinks.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000

TAMPA -- The city's thirst for water grows each week. The Hillsborough River, Tampa's primary water source, isn't even ankle-deep north of the city reservoir. And summer rains aren't expected for six weeks.

Tampa's water crisis is getting worse and it likely won't improve any time soon, Water Department Director David Tippin told the City Council Thursday.

"It is very serious," Tippin said. "The next three weeks will be super-critical."

Consumption on Tuesday, a legal lawn watering day for half the city, increased by more than 1-million gallons over the previous Tuesday to 97-million gallons, Tippin said.

Things aren't looking much better on the supply side.

The Hillsborough River's flow dropped to 14.7-million gallons a day, about a quarter of the historical average for the day.

Tippin personalized the point. He walked across the river at Fowler Avenue recently and didn't get his socks wet. It's often over his head at the same spot.

Still, the city isn't ready yet to tighten up its once-a-week watering restrictions.

City officials have been critical of Hillsborough County for changing its legal watering days.

On Wednesday, County Commissioners eliminated weekend watering and spread legal irrigation over the rest of the week. City officials worry that will further confuse customers about Tampa's lawn watering days: Sundays for odd addresses, Tuesdays for even addresses.

Many Tampa customers are panicking on their watering day and irrigating too much, Tippin said.

Council member Rose Ferlita said the city might unintentionally be encouraging over-watering.

"You tell people they can water only one day a week, and they supersaturate in the morning, then supersaturate at night," she said. Ferlita suggested giving customers two days a week but limit outdoor irrigation to mornings only.

That would be less wasteful than people watering day and night, Tippin said, but would likely boost overall consumption. Most customers have sprinkler systems set to water lawns only once a day, he said.

Water officials have worked feverishly to augment the river with water from other sources such as the Tampa Bypass Canal and Sulphur Springs. Both present problems, however.

Water levels in the canal have been dropping during the drought. To keep the canal at safe levels, state water management officials have cut in half the amount the city can take, from 30-million to 15-million gallons daily, Tippin said.

The spring water contains relatively high amounts of chlorides. When the reservoir's chloride level gets close to unhealthy levels, the city must cut off the tap. Typically, the city diverts 20-million gallons a day from Sulphur Springs into the reservoir.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at

Water-saving tips for better lawns

Apply one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water to grass. That equates to 20 minutes for sprinklers with fixed heads and 45 to 60 minutes for rotating-head sprinklers.

Check sprinkler systems on watering days for broken parts. Make sure sprinklers are applying water evenly to avoid brown spots.

Add mulch to plant beds to keep the ground from drying out.

Cut the grass high so it shades the ground and creates deeper root growth.

Get a free sprinkler system evaluation from the city Water Department: (813) 274-7091.

Source: Tampa Water Department.

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