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City allows water rules to expire

Complaints over relatively tough restrictions persuade officials not to renew emergency rules.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- It's legal again to wash the car in the driveway, pressure wash the deck, run a fountain or empty and refill the pool.

The city's emergency water restrictions expired on Friday, and city officials said they will not renew them right now. Still, they're encouraging residents to lay off these water-intensive activities as much as possible. Reclaimed water restrictions are still in place.

The South Florida Water Management District had asked the city and other local governments to restrict water use after the regional Tampa Bay Water utility pumped more water than it was supposed to from its wells.

But the city's rules, adopted April 15, were the most restrictive of any in the area.

"Why has the council placed restrictions on washing cars when Pinellas County and other large cities such as Clearwater allow washing . . .?" wrote resident Jeffrey Fingers to the city. "It is widely publicized that St. Petersburg uses less of its alloted water supply than other communities do, yet we are forced to endure more restrictions."

City officials said it was comments such as these that led them to let the restrictions expire Friday.

"I think lifting the restrictions when they expire today puts us in line with other government agencies in the area," said George Webb, public works administrator.

The city received hundreds of complaints about the restrictions, particularly the car washing, from residents who felt the city has already done its fair share of water conservation.

During May, historically the driest month of the season, city water users consumed 34-million gallons of potable water a day, down 5-million gallons a day from May of 2000.

"I think our residents have done a good job of trying to conserve water," said Assistant Public Utilities Director Patti Anderson. "The message was a strong message, but there was a lot of confusion and that caused a lot of frustration. We're trying to minimize that frustration."

Anderson said city officials may ask the council to adopt some potable water restrictions in July if it continues to be dry. Afternoon storms have come to much of the Tampa Bay area in the past two weeks, but South Pinellas has received very little rain. A change in weather patterns could change that next week, officials hope.

Residents who use potable water or well water to irrigate their lawns are still restricted to one day a week. Those who live at addresses ending in even numbers may irrigate on Tuesday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Residents with addresses ending in odd numbers can water their lawns on Sunday during the same hours.

The mayor's emergency restrictions on reclaimed water use are also still in place until July 31. Residents who live at even numbered addresses can irrigate on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those with odd-numbered addresses can use the system on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays. There are no time-of-day restrictions on reclaimed water.

Residents are using every drop of reclaimed water these days, causing the system to run dry for some. On Thursday, 37 residents called the public utilities department to complain about low pressure.

Anderson said the city has one of its tanks down for maintenance, which has cut 6-million gallons of reclaimed water a day from the supply.

Meanwhile, residents are using more. In May of 2000, residents used just 84 percent of the 31-million gallons of reclaimed water available. In May of 2001, they used 99 percent of the available supply.

"It's all getting used," Anderson said. "We need some rain to take the pressure off the potable water system as well as the reclaimed system."

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