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Limits on reclaimed water possible
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- With the reclaimed water system pressure dropping so low that the system is useless to many customers, the City Council will consider an emergency ordinance today to ration the recycled wastewater.
Under the plan, each home would be assigned three watering days per week: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for even-numbered addresses and Monday, Wednesday and Sunday for odd-numbered addresses.
Dozens of the city's 10,000 reclaimed water customers shouted down such restrictions when Mayor David Fischer proposed them in March along with restrictions on irrigation with drinking water and shallow-well water.
Reclaimed users said the city had pledged them unlimited use of the recycled wastewater for a flat fee.
Now reclaimed pressure drops so low during peak morning and evening use that sprinkler heads spray only a quarter as far as they should or don't pop out of the ground at all.
Pressure is lowest far away from treatment plants that produce reclaimed water.
Demand for reclaimed water was so heavy Wednesday in Hillsborough that the system shut down in three northern Hillsborough subdivisions, prompting officials there to ask that reclaimed water customers cut back their sprinkling to once a week.
The hardships have made people receptive to rationing, according to council member Bea Griswold, who proposed it. "At first they were bristling about having to limit anything, but now I think they're beginning to realize that we have to give them the pressure," she said Wednesday.
Bill Foster was among the majority of council members who doubted there was a shortage of reclaimed water and enacted only voluntary cutbacks. Now, like many customers, Foster is reconsidering.
"I'm less against looking into some type of restriction than I was," he said.
"Before, we were still injecting millions of gallons a day (into disposal wells). My premise was, "Where's the shortage?' "
Voluntary restrictions seemed to work at first, but usage has gone back above 25-million gallons per day, creating a shortage.
"I think some people are just so tuned into their daily routine they don't bother when it's voluntary," City Administrator Tish Elston said.
Worse, the city's Albert Whitted treatment plant has been under repair during the whole drought and is not contributing its 6-million gallons per day to the system.
"When we get Whitted on line, then problem solved," Foster said. "At least that's what I'm being told."
Fischer said Monday that he would not ask the council to reconsider reclaimed water restrictions, saying they likely could not be approved before the drought ends.
But when the council scheduled a special meeting to confirm the hiring of two assistant city attorneys, Griswold added reclaimed water to the agenda. If the restrictions are approved, they will take effect immediately.
The draft ordinance would not restrict commercial users such as golf courses but would require them to use "best management practices." It would expire July 1 unless the council extended it.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.