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County seeks drought victims

If your well has run dry or your landscaping business is faltering, you could be in line for financial help.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


Businesses and residents who have been hit in the pocketbook by this year's drought -- the worst on record -- could get some relief.

Pasco County emergency management officials are asking anyone who has been hurt financially by the drought to contact their office as part of a statewide effort to determine whether a disaster declaration is needed.

"They're trying to see what the need is," said Emergency Management Officer Michele Baker.

Examples of those affected include lawn service companies that have little to mow while the drought stunts grass growth and residents whose wells have gone dry.

Should the county or state be declared a disaster area, federal money in the form of low-interest loans or grants could become available.

No money is available yet, Baker stressed. But the county needs to know how many people have been affected by the drought so it can report those figures to the state. Already state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford has asked Gov. Jeb Bush to persuade federal authorities to declare an agricultural disaster for the area.

Many ranchers are selling part of their herds because they lack food and water as farm ponds and wells dry up. The heat and stress on cows has resulted in lower milk production. Bodies of water have recorded the lowest oxygen levels ever, damaging aquaculture crops, Crawford has said.

Locally, emergency management officials said they expect to hear from lawn service companies, which can't cut grass that isn't growing due to lack of rain.

And residents and businesses that have spent thousands of dollars drilling new wells after their wells went dry are urged to call the county as well.

"Those people (with dry wells) who don't have the resources to drill new wells" should call too, Baker said.

Well drillers in Pasco estimate that hundreds of wells across the Tampa Bay area have gone dry as the water table continues to drop due to pumping and the drought. The backlog is so great that well drillers say some people have gone weeks without water before a well driller became available to drill a new well.

How to help

If the drought has affected you financially, contact the county Public Information Department at (727) 847-8110; in east Pasco, call (800) 368-2411, ext. 8110.

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