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Tampa gets a drop of good news on water

The city's water consumption fell slightly last week. No one seems to know why.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2000


TAMPA -- Tampa's water boss on Thursday served up some rare good news about the city's prolonged water crisis.

City water customers used an average of 78-million gallons a day for the week ending Wednesday -- 3-million gallons less than the previous week, said Water Department director David Tippin.

It was the first drop in weekly consumption since mid-April.

Also, the level of the Hillsborough River reservoir, the city's main source of water, has remained stable in recent days. The reservoir had been dropping as water customers gulped increasing amounts of water, especially on outdoor irrigation days.

"Our demand is no greater than a normal day in the dry season," Tippin told City Council members.

No one seemed to know why the city's water consumption fell slightly last week.

Tippin speculated that the sight of storm clouds might have prompted some people to turn their sprinklers off. And water cops are writing violators lots of citations -- nearly 2,500 since March 16, when the city restricted outdoor irrigation to once a week.

The flow of the Hillsborough River is still falling, Tippin said.

The city continues drawing millions of gallons each day from the Tampa Bypass Canal and Sulphur Springs.

Last week, the Southwest Florida Water Management District gave Tampa permission to pump water from Morris Bridge sink for 120 days. That should add an average of 15-million gallons a day to the river.

The city is prepared to ban all outdoor watering if the situation gets significantly worse, Tippin said, but he would not say what would trigger such a drastic step.

City Council members offered ideas for cutting use.

Chairman Charlie Miranda explained that he turns off the shower to lather himself with soap and turns off the tap while brushing his teeth. "You're laughing," he said, , "but all of us are going to have to change our lifestyles."

Council member Mary Alvarez suggested a more drastic step: Could the city cut off water for two or three hours a day?

Tippin said that would result in "health and safety" problems.

Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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