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Crisis isn't over, water watchers say

While rain has helped, it will take more downpours before Tampa can consider easing lawn watering rules.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


TAMPA -- Water consumption may be down and the city's reservoir may be up, but don't reset those sprinklers just yet.

While recent rains have helped ease the water crisis, said Marjorie Guillory, Tampa's deputy water director, it will take four or five downpours like Tuesday's before the city should consider lifting the once-a-week lawn watering rules in place since mid-March.

"If we could see the rainy season kicking in like a normal rainy season and had another week of rain, we'd be comfortable," Guillory said.

The barometer most closely watched by Tampa water officials is the level of the reservoir behind the Hillsborough River dam, which holds the city's water reserves.

The level has climbed 10 inches in the past two days but needs to go up about 3 feet more to reach the top of the dam, Guillory said. Tuesday's storm dumped more than 2 inches of rain at the city's water plant on the reservoir.

Sporadic rains also helped reduce demand throughout the week, Guillory said. Consumption was down Sunday, one of the week's two legal lawn watering days in the city, to 84-million gallons, some 10-million less than the previous Sunday, she said.

How long it will take for enough rain to lift the once-weekly water rules, however, is anybody's guess.

Seasonal afternoon thunderstorms arrived on schedule, and no long-term forecasts suggest this summer will be drier than normal, said Paul Dellegatto, chief meteorologist for WTVT-Ch. 13.

But that doesn't mean some places won't go three or four days straight without a drop, he said.

"Somewhere in the bay area, we're going to have rain, but we don't have the ability to say exactly where," Dellegatto said. "Yesterday, we had big storms in Hernando, Citrus and Manatee counties but not much in the middle."

The restrictions grate on landscapers, who can't water new sod or plants in Tampa more than once a week.

Business is off 50 percent at Jimmy's Sod in West Tampa, said manager Frank Favata. Much of that will be lost for the year, he said. The company recommends against laying sod in shady areas during the summer because it is susceptible to fungus.

Favata and others in the business are still sore that the city didn't provide an exemption for new landscaping as Hillsborough County and other cities and counties do. He wonders why the city hasn't restricted new development when water supplies are so tight.

"Where are they going to get water for those new houses?" Favata said.

City Council member Bob Buckhorn hasn't heard calls for relaxing the water restrictions yet. Most people understand that a few days of rain haven't broken the drought, he said.

But Buckhorn wants the city to find long-term solutions while the drought is still on everyone's mind. He suggests incentives for developers to plant drought-tolerant native plants instead of thirsty grass such as St. Augustine.

"Long term, it's incumbent upon us to develop a crusade everyone rallies behind to do the same with less water," Buckhorn said.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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