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County within trickle of Swiftmud goal

Pinellas cuts its use 4.8 percent in May and June, but the water agency had ordered a 5 percent reduction.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2001

Pinellas cuts its use 4.8 percent in May and June, but the water agency had ordered a 5 percent reduction.

When Pick Talley, Pinellas County's water-use czar, got the news two months ago that the county must cut its water use 5 percent, he had a quick answer:

It couldn't be done. "Unrealistic," he called it.

Well ... maybe not. During the past two months, Pinellas County has slashed its water use by 4.8 percent compared with the same period last year.

"There's a lot of goodwill among the citizens of Pinellas," said Talley, the county's utilities director. "They know there's a drought crisis and they're willing to respond."

But whether the drop will be enough to satisfy the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which enacted an emergency order in March calling for the 5 percent cut, remains to be seen. The board said May and June would be the first months it would review.

Board members will meet Tuesday and review water use for Tampa Bay utilities. But spokesman Michael Molligan said it's up to the board to decide whether Pinellas is close enough to comply with Swiftmud's order.

"I'm sure they'll take into consideration what steps have been taken and what direction they're headed in," Molligan said.

Permit holders who don't comply with Swiftmud's emergency order can be fined up to $10,000 per violation, Molligan said.

County Commissioner Susan Latvala said she's not sure what Swiftmud would do.

"We hope they just go, 'Come on, guys, try harder,' " she said.

Pinellas still has time to drop its two-month average to a full 5 percent, Latvala said, because the final tally isn't made until Saturday. She was hoping many residents wouldn't water their lawns Sunday because of last week's rain.

"We've had enough rain this week that nobody should water on Sunday," she said. "Don't water just because it's your day."

Water use has dropped elsewhere in Tampa Bay as well. Tampa Bay Water, the agency formed by Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, as well as the cities of St. Petersburg, Tampa and New Port Richey, said last month that its water use for April dropped 6 percent from the previous year.

In Pinellas, it's not surprising that water usage dropped during the first three months of the year. That time last year, county residents were allowed to water twice a week.

But the drop has continued into June, even though Pinellas started restricting residents to watering once a week last March. That means Pinellas is now comparing this year's water use with months last year with the same restrictions.

Swiftmud's order for a 5 percent cut says counties must first report water consumption for May and June. Pinellas was down 6 percent in May, but water use hasn't dropped as much in June, keeping the average at 4.8 percent.

Pinellas' water figures include its wholesale water customers: Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar. The utilities provide water directly to unincorporated Pinellas County, Largo, Kenneth City, Seminole, and Pinellas beach communities.

After Swiftmud enacted its emergency order, Pinellas more than doubled its fines for violating water restrictions and put more water cops on the street to look for violators. Commissioners also approved spending $300,000 on a media campaign asking residents to conserve.

The water use drop shows that those efforts are working, Talley said.

"When you have a continued, severe drought and your water use goes down, somebody responded to something," he said.

Latvala said the challenge for the county now is to conserve throughout the rainy season.

"The drought is not over because it's raining," she said. "It could take months or even years to restore the hydrologic system."

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