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Rains hardly touch drought

Recent afternoon showers are helping, according to officials, but the risk of fires remains high and water restrictions are likely to remain in place.

By KATHERINE BLOK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


Recent rains have revived lawns and reduced the number of brush fires, but officials say the county still needs more to remedy the effects of the drought.

photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
A horse pastured off U.S. 98 in Tribly takes advantage of recent rain.
The National Weather Service office in Ruskin said the Hernando County Airport south of Brooksville, has received 3.59 inches since June 1, with 2.99 inches of that falling Wednesday and another 0.4 inches Monday evening. The drought index has dropped with the precipitation and Monday was about 660. The scale ranges from 0 to 800, with 800 being the driest.

Times weather watchers in Hernando have reported varied rainfall. Hernando Beach measured 0.19 of an inch Monday evening, which was the first rainfall of the season; northern Spring Hill had 1 inch Wednesday and 0.15 of an inch Monday; western Brooksville reported 0.32 of an inch Monday and 0.1 of an inch Sunday.

The small amount of rain has caused no noticeable decrease in water use, said officials with Hernando County Utilities Department and Florida Water Services.

Some businesses are suffering more than normal during this drought season and the Hernando County Emergency Management Office is collecting information from businesses that have been severely affected. Interim Emergency Management Officer Annette Doying said five businesses have contacted the office. Two ranch owners have been facing higher feed bills because there is no grass for the cattle and horses; the Ergle Family Christmas Tree Farm in Ridge Manor has lost two years of crops; and two lawn care services are losing business, Doying said.

The county is looking to assess economic loss, sinkhole or other groundwater-related activity and dry wells, she said. The information collected by the county will be forwarded to state officials, who will assess the damage. Although there are no assurances, Doying said small businesses may be eligible for low-interest loans or federal subsidies.

Although agriculture has continued to suffer, recent storms have eased the jobs of area fire departments, who say they have seen a significant reduction in the number of brush fires they have responded to in the past few days.

Spring Hill Fire and Rescue has had no fires since Saturday, Chief Mike Morgan said.

Brooksville Fire Chief James Daugherty said his department has had no calls for brush fires since Wednesday.

Capt. Dennis Hackett of the East Hernando Fire Department said the number of fires in his area has declined since Saturday.

Despite the rain, "we're still in a very dry situation," Hackett said. "The rains haven't been significant enough to declare the fire emergency . . . over."

The rain has not been enough to lift water restrictions, either.

The governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will review water restrictions at its June 27 meeting, and, unless the area receives significantly more rain before then, spokesman Michael Molligan said, the board probably will consider extending the restrictions.

"Any rain is helpful, but the rain has been scattered. For the aquifer (to become replenished), it could take several weeks for the rain to work its way down to the aquifer," Molligan said. "We need a lot more and a lot more consistent rainfall."

And until more rain arrives, afternoon thunderstorms pose a danger because of lightning, which could cause more fires, said Erin Albury, state Division of Forestry area supervisor for Citrus and Hernando counties.

"What we're hoping for is that this is the beginning of the end" of the drought," Albury said. "If we can continue to get these afternoon storms, everything is going to green up and . . . will be looking good in another week to two weeks. Slowly but surely we'll see an end to this fire season."

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