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Reclaimed water rules tighten, but use rises


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the days immediately following the passage of emergency restrictions on reclaimed water, residents used more to sprinkle their lawns than when the usage was unlimited.

But despite the possible burst of lawlessness among the city's 10,000 reclaimed water customers, city officials said they weren't concerned that the new restrictions would fail.

City Council member Bill Foster pointed out that pressure in the system improved following passage of the ordinance, which cut reclaimed water usage to three days a week.

Foster thinks a lot of reclaimed water users might be watering longer on the days they're allowed to water. And others might be either ignorant of the ordinance or ignoring it.

"With the rains we had today, I hope many residents will use this as an opportunity to turn off their systems so we can catch up," Foster said.

Sunday, when only residents with even-numbered addresses were allowed to sprinkle with reclaimed water, they used 1.3-million gallons more than they did the previous Sunday, when everyone was allowed to sprinkle.

Still, Mayor David Fischer said that overall pressure levels in the system Sunday and Monday were the best he has seen in a month.

But they were not where they need to be, and city officials said residents now have no excuse for watering on the wrong days.

The city has advertised the watering days in the newspaper.

Also on Tuesday, the city sent out fliers outlining the new restrictions to all reclaimed water users.

The ordinance requires those with even-numbered addresses to water their lawns on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Those with odd addresses can sprinkle their lawns with reclaimed water on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday.

Dennis Thompson, 72, who lives at 545 17th Ave. NE, said he's following the city's ordinance, but like many, his lawn still sported some cork-brown patches on Wednesday. He said he has noticed an improvement in the pressure, but he pointed to areas around his sprinkler heads where the grass still graduates from a dark green to a dull brown.

Thompson said he has taken to watering his lawn in the early morning, around 3:30 a.m.

He doesn't agree with restrictions on reclaimed water usage, since it was originally offered as an unlimited resource.

"But the restrictions are not that bad," he said Wednesday. "I'm happy to have the reclaimed water and that I can use it three days a week. Now my neighbor, he's on a well, so he can only water one day a week."

The emergency restrictions did not come without controversy on the City Council this month. In a vote three weeks ago, three members of the council voted against them, including Foster, Larry Williams and Kathleen Ford.

At the time, Fischer said the plan was a "no brainer." Of the three dissenting council members, he said, "I guess some no-brains kicked in."

On June 1, Ford was the only council member to vote against the restrictions. She said she's opposed to restricting a system that reclaimed water users paid for and doesn't think the city should fine folks for using it as they were originally told.

Ford said she thinks the city needs to come up with a master plan for the reclaimed water system, which she said needs more storage capacity, so there would be water available even in dry times.

Foster pointed out that the ordinance is only for a month.

"This is the only ordinance I ever passed that has a life expectancy of 30 days," Foster said.

"We're now in the seventh day. We have roughly three more weeks of the ordinance," he said. "Then it sunsets and everyone can go back to what they were watering. We've just got to catch up. We got rain today, and that's thrilled all of us."

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