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Incentives considered to cut Pasco water use

One option mentioned: a discount on water bills for residents who install a more efficient sprinkling system.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Faced with predictions of another spring drought, Pasco County officials want to make it worth your while to conserve water.

Commissioners are considering possible incentives to get residents to curb their outdoor water use, which makes up the bulk of all water consumption.

"Two, three, four percent is for drinking. The rest is for "Other' use," Commission Chairman Steve Simon said last week.

One idea might be discounts on water bills for customers who redesign their sprinkler system to make it more efficient. An ordinance requiring efficient sprinkler systems or rain sensors for new homes could be another. Some 40 percent of all automatic sprinkler systems waste water, said Simon, who served on the Tampa Bay Water board until this week.

"You cap off that head, replace that pipe. It makes a world of difference," Simon said.

So would a style of landscaping that doesn't need as much water. County officials plan to research programs that encourage planting of drought-resistant vegetation. Already the county has one program that gives awards to residents who use that landscaping technique, called xeriscaping.

The commissioners' discussion came last week after their regular meeting, when they sat down together to talk about how to encourage water conservation.

The situation is dire. Experts with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), which sets water policy for the region that includes Pasco, have suggested a ban on most outdoor water uses during the winter months. That probably would include irrigation, car washing and swimming pool filling.

Since June, the rain deficit has grown from 12 to 16 inches. The National Weather Service forecasts drier than normal weather for the next three months. And winter visitors are returning to put an even greater strain on the region's resources.

Although the predicted drought has sparked commissioners' discussions, the solutions they are considering would be long term. For example, county officials would like to hook up more households to the county's central sewer system, which would create more reclaimed water for irrigation. Retrofitting homes already on septic tanks is expensive, about $5,000 per lot, said Assistant County Administrator for Utilities Doug Bramlett.

But the county can lower its cap on the number of homes new subdivisions can have before they have to connect to the sewer system, currently set at 50.

"That definitely needs to be lowered," Bramlett said. Already development department officials are looking at that. Bramlett said he wants new subdivisions required to connect to a sewer when they get 20 to 25 homes.

"The developers will say that's not cost efficient, but if it's not cost efficient I guess they won't build it," Bramlett said.

While the county pursues conservation programs, the water management district is looking for volunteers. Swiftmud needs private landowners willing to let the district install shallow wetland monitoring wells on their property. Ideally, the wetland should be one-half acre or larger with an area at least 50 feet by 50 feet to accommodate well construction. Anyone interested in participating should contact Ted Rochow at (800) 423-1476, ext. 4271.

- Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Or e-mail her at ulferts@sptimes.com.

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