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Newest water rules steam some

Residents are upset that they don't have unlimited use of reclaimed water. But officials say there's no getting around it.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 5, 2000


Sucked dry by the prolonged drought, Pasco County has begun rationing reclaimed water in nine neighborhoods in Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes.

Reclaimed water, the decontaminated, nutrient-rich byproduct of sewage treatment, had been considered an unlimited resource. After all, people won't stop flushing their toilets.

But water-thirsty lawns in neighborhoods such as Meadow Pointe easily can gulp the 1.5-million gallons of reclaimed water produced each day by four treatment plants in eastern Pasco, said Bruce Kennedy, Pasco's utilities director.

For about 3,000 customers in the nine neighborhoods, the county has restricted watering to three days a week, four hours a day.

The neighborhoods are Meadow Pointe, Northwood, the Lakes at Northwood, Brookside, Quail Hollow, Lexington Oaks, Stagecoach Village, Oak Grove and Sable Ridge.

Also stuck with rationing are golf courses in Quail Hollow and Lexington Oaks and several orange groves from Zephyrhills to Land O'Lakes.

"One small area in Meadow Pointe can use all of that water in less than a day. People have this mind-set that reclaimed water is unrestricted and unlimited," Kennedy said. "We've got to work on changing that concept."

He'll have a hard time convincing Christina Schaecher. Schaecher and her husband moved into Meadow Pointe in September. She said she was assured she could water her lawn whenever she pleased.

Informed of the new restrictions last week, she learned the supposedly bottomless well actually had a bottom.

"It's insane," Schaecher said. "We'll probably have to replace the majority of our lawn. It's orange now."

Another Meadow Pointe resident, Ken Myers, has kept his lawn a deep green only with the application of regular drinking water from his garden hose.

Myers doesn't object to the restrictions on reclaimed water. He objects to the low water pressure on his designated watering days.

Adding to his woes was the April episode in which partially treated wastewater was mistakenly released into the sprinkler systems of reclaimed water customers.

"There's just not enough reclaimed water to keep our lawns alive," Myers said as his lawn baked in the late morning sun.

To prevent cheating, the county plans to block the flow of reclaimed water on non-watering days. The move isn't popular. Kennedy said his office has handled dozens of customer complaints, most from Meadow Pointe.

"It's frustrating for them and we understand that," Kennedy said.

Five treatment plants in west Pasco produce a daily surplus of more than 1-million gallons of reclaimed water. Little good that does east Pasco: The two systems are not connected, although they will be within two years.

So until the drought ends, the county will rely on the goodwill of people such as David and Joanne Williams, both of whom support the watering ban.

"It's a bummer," Joanne Williams said as she reclined in the Meadow Pointe community swimming pool late last week. "But there's a drought. We understand."

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