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Despite rains, aquifer is still below normal

Swiftmud says the Floridan Aquifer hasn't been replenished. Water restrictions will remain.

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 8, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Yes, recent spotty rains have helped the drought-depleted aquifer. No, don't wait up for an early end to severe watering restrictions.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, which in April imposed dramatic restrictions on the use of drinking water, including a limit on lawn and garden sprinkling of once a week, has started issuing a weekly report on how the Floridan Aquifer is doing.

It's not a pretty thing.

In the central part of the district, which includes Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, the Floridan Aquifer on July 6 was 3.37 feet below the lowest level that could be considered normal for the month.

In the northern part of the district, which includes Hernando and Citrus counties, the aquifer was 2.42 feet below the lowest norm for July. The discrepancy in the southern part of the 16-county district was a stunning 8.18 feet.

To look at the numbers, it appears the aquifer, the underground reservoir that provides most of the region's drinking water, has sprung a leak. In the central part of the district, the aquifer on May 31 was 1.56 feet below the lowest norm. On June 26, the disparity had become 2.65 feet. And now, it's more than 3 feet.

"That's a little misleading," said Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan. "Each month has a separate set of statistics. There is a normal range for May, a normal range for June, a normal range for July. The aquifer level might actually have risen in July and still be farther away from its normal range than it was in June because the normal range is higher."

Swiftmud first imposed the once-a-week watering restrictions in April and set them to expire June 30. But June didn't produce enough rain to help appreciably, so the Swiftmud board extended the restrictions indefinitely and said no consideration would be given to a return to twice-a-week watering until the aquifer reached the low end of its normal range.

But if that happens in October or November, when rains begin to end and the dry season looms, it is unlikely restrictions will be eased, at least until next summer.

"If the water resources do not recover to at least the low-normal range during the rainy season, next spring's dry season will again place extraordinary stress on those resources," Swiftmud said in a statement Friday.

Districtwide, June rainfall was almost normal, with 7.24 inches falling over the northern counties against a historic average of 7.31 inches, 6.55 inches in the central counties against a historic average of 6.77, and 6.36 inches in the south compared with a historic average of 7.77.

But that didn't make a dent in deficits that exceeded 10 inches since the first of the year. What makes recovery difficult is that so little of what falls onto the ground ever finds its way into the aquifer.

"It's anywhere from 7 to 10 percent," Molligan said. "A few places it's as high as 12 percent."

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