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Leader warns tap may run dry

City Council chief Charlie Miranda says Tampa would deny the rest of Hillsborough water only "as a last resort.''


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000

TAMPA -- Worried by the drought, City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda is warning potential developers in unincorporated Hillsborough not to rely on Tampa water should the long dry spell persist.

"We have no rain in sight," Miranda said at Thursday's council meeting, noting that if 3 inches of rain didn't fall by the end of the year, the area will have seen the driest year since 1890. "This is serious," he said, urging people to conserve by turning the water off while soaping up in the shower.

Miranda, whose own lawn has died from lack of watering, said he is tired of seeing businesses violate water rules by running their sprinklers on restricted days. At next week's council meeting, he said, he will start naming names.

"It'll embarrass them," he said in an interview. "I've seen malls, I've seen hospitals, I've seen corporations."

Miranda said that of the 440,000 people served by the Tampa Water Department, 160,000 live in unincorporated Hillsborough. Developers looking to build there should not count on Tampa for water, Miranda said, since the city must take care of its own customers first.

"I want them to understand we may not have the capability we had in the past," Miranda said. "I don't want anyone to say we didn't warn them."

Dave Tippin, director of the Tampa Water Department, echoed Miranda's concern.

"People just go ahead and build all these complexes and things without coming to us first to talk about water supply," he said.

Tippin said Tampa water customers who live in unincorporated Hillsborough use a disproportionately high amount. That means they waste more of it, he said, partly as a result of less stringent watering restrictions for new houses.

"We're operating under two standards," he said. "The county is not as strict as we are in our service area." The city, which draws its water primarily from the Hillsborough River, uses an average of 51.5-million gallons per day, while it supplies an average 20.5-million gallons per day to unincorporated Hillsborough, Tippin said.

So, how bad will the drought have to get before the city considers cutting off non-Tampa residents? Tippin said it depends on the demand for water in coming months.

If that happens, he said, some Hillsborough residents would have to seek other water sources, such as Tampa Bay Water, the regional water utility.

"We'd want to do that as a last resort," he said. "We will not jeopardize the health and safety of our folks here in the city of Tampa."

Like Miranda, Tippin urged conservation. "We've just come out of one of the driest Octobers in history. Do we want water to drink, or do we want to put it on water-wasting turf?"

Added Dick Greco, the mayor: "It's awful to get up every morning and have the most beautiful weather you've ever seen, and wish it rained."

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or

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