More eyes watch water use
By JAMES THORNER
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001
Lawn watering violators, beware: Your friendly neighborhood sheriff's deputy, ambulance driver and parks groundskeeper could hit you with fines of up to $500.
Eager to reduce water use in the face of an emergency conservation order from the state, Pasco has unofficially deputized about 130 county employees to cite grass sprinkling cheaters.
The county's 14 code enforcement officers still pull the heaviest duty policing the once-a-week watering restrictions.
But they've been joined by dozens of building inspectors, parks officials, paramedics, sheriff's deputies, water meter readers and others.
"Their primary duty is to do their regular work, but during their work day, as they're traveling around, they're to stop if they see violations," said Pasco's utility chief, Doug Bramlett.
The expansion of the water cops makes good Pasco's promise to enforce watering violations 24 hours a day. Fines are $30 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.
"I review all the citations, and you wouldn't believe the hours they're catching people. Twelve midnight. 3 a.m. The middle of the day," assistant county attorney Debra Zampetti said.
Pasco quadrupled fines for repeat offenders on March 27, after the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, mandated that Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties reduce consumption by 5 percent.
Already, the get-tough policy, which includes cutbacks on car washing to once a week, appears to have yielded results.
Pasco reported a 14.4 percent drop in water consumption in the first half of May 2001 compared with a similar number of days in May 2000.
County code enforcement officers wrote 204 watering citations in April. The number of citations written by other county employees was not available. Pasco averaged about 20 citations a month before the Swiftmud order came down.
Most of the illegal sprinklers were caught in west Pasco. Almost all were first-time offenders, although two water customers were hit with the $250 repeat-offender fine.
Pasco doesn't expect to ease up on the water patrols until the return of heavy rains, whenever that may be.
"If we get some good, solid, heavy rainy months, you wouldn't be watering anyway," Bramlett said.
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