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The drought
[Times files: Steve Hasel]

The Tampa Bay area, along with the state Florida and much of the Southeast, is in the midst of a severe dry spell, which has evoked stern measures concerning water usage, specifically for lawns and other outdoor uses of city and private well water. Here is a history of recent Times coverage of this dry spell and what communities, regions and the state are doing about it. The water restrictions below will be updated as rules are revised or new ones are enacted.

Keetch-Byram Drought Index Updated daily by the Florida Division of Forestry
West Central Florida Drought report by the National Weather Service

Recent Times coverage


Aug. 20, 2002

Water, water everywhere but well fields
Retention ponds and swamps are filling up as summer rains thrash North Pinellas. But overworked well fields in the area are still low, officials say.

Aug. 4, 2002

Heavy rains refilling depleted ground water
The Hillsborough River and parts of the Floridan Aquifer return to healthy levels. Other parts and some strained lakes and wetlands, however, are not as full.

July 23, 2002

Flooding fears rise with rain
More rain is expected this week after as much as a half-foot fell during the weekend.

July 3, 2002

Rains replenish mosquitoes and prompt repeat spraying
The mosquito control folks are spraying and spraying again as flooding provides hatcheries for the bloodsucking pests.

July 2, 2002

Spring Hill water worth less?
Hernando commissioners balk at paying $10-million more than a study says Florida Water Service is worth.

Rains leave puddles aplenty
Soggy weather opens up more sinkholes in Spring Hill. Meanwhile, the county steps up mosquito spraying.

Truck makes sinkhole, falls into it
A pest control truck struck a hydrant, water flowed, and a new sinkhole was created.

Wet now? Could worsen if lakes fill
Forecasters at the National Weather Service on Monday said that periodic flooding has hit Pasco County and other central Florida areas in recent days due to heavy rains, but if the downpours continue, it could get worse.

June 26, 2002

Barricades will mark Upham Beach shore
Officials are surprised to learn that the five barricades that will be buried to stop sand erosion will become visible after a year or two.

Water rate increase will save some money
The 4.15 percent increase will, however, save up to $15 a month for the one-third of the system's customers who use the least amount of water.

County restricts water usage
Commissioners reluctantly give in to Swiftmud, which ordered tougher watering rules for the south-central area.

It's raining blessings
Some are hit by floods, but the water supply is rising, rivers and lakes are recovering, plants are growing and wildfires are just a memory.

June 25, 2002

Courses soaking it all in
Dry Citrus and Hernando county links welcome recent rash of rain.

Heavy rains pelt parts of county
Still, sinkholes in Spring Hill appeared to remain stable, with one minor exception.

Water supplier to ask for strict enforcement
Tampa Bay Water wants a crackdown on outdoor watering so that it doesn't exceed its pumping permit.

June 24, 2002

Heavy rain predicted
A return to Florida normalcy means daily rain showers -- and sinkholes -- but better boating and greener greens.

Gripes surge as water bills rise
New reclaimed water rates are causing homeowners associations to turn to the County Commission for relief.

June 21, 2002

Please, install some sod
RAIN. Finally, South Tampa gets some.

June 19, 2002

Storms to take summer pattern
Heavy downpours won't go away, weather forecasters say, but expect them to arrive a bit later in the day as is typical this time of year.

June 17, 2002

Burn ban in place because of dry conditions
LECANTO -- Due to extremely dry and windy conditions, Citrus County residents have been placed under a burn ban until further notice, county public safety director Charles Poliseno said.

May 31, 2002
Tampa might share reclaimed water

Tampa could pump 10-million gallons of reclaimed water per day to the county. But pipe work costing $57-million would not be completed until 2007.

Reclaimed water may go to Pasco
With Tampa looking for help building a pipeline to New Tampa, Hillsborough County could be left out.

May 14, 2002
Clamping down
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Reclaimed water has caught on so widely that meters and limits may loom.

May 10, 2002
St. Petersburg sets new limits on reclaimed water
Low pressure due to drought and hot weather this spring lead to three-days-a-week watering restrictions.

Archive of drought coverage

May 31, 2000

Aug. 6, 2001

  • Deluges help disguise drought
    Heavy rains are back after a 3-year absence, and yard workers are scrambling to keep up while dodging the raindrops. And though the downpours have refilled lakes, they haven't raised aquifer levels or eased the drought.

July 13, 2001

July 1, 2001

June 25, 2001

June 25, 2001

June 24, 2001

June 21, 2001

June 20, 2001

  • Skies erupt over Pinellas
    Wind, lighting and rain pound St. Petersburg at rush hour. Once again, shops on Beach Drive are flooded.

June 17, 2001

  • Dry days
    As residents and government officials wait and look to the sky for relief, the lakes and rivers that help feed our growing thirst are disappearing. Is this temporary or just the beginning?
  • Increased water use is par for the course
    Mining was once the biggest user of water in the county, but with residential and commercial growth, usage patterns have shifted much in 20 years.

    June 16, 2001

    June 15, 2001

    June 11, 2001

    June 9, 2001

    June 5, 2001

    • County pushes native trees
      An ordinance would require replacing chopped-down trees with native flora. The plan would help conserve water, officials say.

    June 4, 2001

    June 3, 2001

    • Amid drought, passion blossoms
      A society promoting Florida flora says growing such plants helps save water. But the plants may be harder to find at gardening stores.

    June 2, 2001

    • Big rain, bigger smiles
      For the first time in two months, the Tampa Bay area received substantial rainfall Friday, with up to 2 inches falling in some areas.
    • Relentless drought boosts desal
      Tampa Bay Water officials are investigating the construction of up to two more desalination plants in Pinellas County.

    June 1, 2001

    • Pastors' advice: Pray it will rain
      Prayer sessions are called to combat the drought. One church even plans rain dances and tells worshipers: Bring umbrellas.
    • In midst of drought, look for water-saving measures
      We did have a nice spring, but now the summer weather has hit with a vengeance. Between the heat, wind and drought, our landscapes are being fried. My lawn is so dry it crackles when I walk on it. The sprinklers just don't put out enough water to wet the soil thoroughly on my watering day. If we don't have rain soon, green grass will be but a fond memory.

    May 30, 2001

    May 28, 2001

    May 27, 2001

    May 26, 2001

    May 25, 2001

    May 22, 2001

    May 22, 2001

    May 20, 2001

    May 18, 2001

    May 13, 2001

    • Expense, shame reign in dry times
      TAMPA PALMS -- Like a lot of homeowner groups, the Tampa Palms Owners Association is not shy about taking residents to task for breaking the rules.

    May 11, 2001

    May 8, 2001

    May 6, 2001

    May 4, 2001

    • Baker tightens watering limits
      Too much drawing on the reclaimed water system drains the supply to nothing, prompting the mayor to declare an emergency.
    • Many water citations don't stick
      Of the people who came to hearings to challenge their watering citations, one in three left without paying fines.
    • Low-flow rebate program touted
      Pinellas County Utilities wants to pay residents to install low-flow toilets to save water. The utilities director will run the plan by commissioners May 15.

    May 1, 2001

    April 29, 2001

    April 27, 2001

    • Stinky fish kill not a danger
      A Hillsborough county scientist says a fish kill was caused by the drought, coupled with last month's heavy rainfall.

    April 22, 2001

    April 20, 2001

    April 19, 2001

    April 17, 2001

    April 16, 2001

    April 14, 2001

    • Rain pushes down water usage
      Heavy rains and less lawn watering contribute to a decrease from March 2000 consumption, records show. More restrictions will come as the drought continues.

    April 13, 2001

    April 12, 2001

    April 10, 2001

    April 9, 2001

  • Get all the facts before buying a low-flow toilet
    Thinking about putting new low-flow toilets in your home? One national plumbing consultant says you can be happy with your choice if you do your homework.

    April 8, 2001

    • County may revisit fines policy
      Code Enforcement says residents should be familiar with watering rules by now, prompting commissioners to reconsider fines for violators.

    April 6, 2001

    April 5, 2001

    April 3, 2001

    April 1, 2001

    • The water enforcers
      Prowling the streets in the darkness of night, water cops often hear and smell illegal watering before they see it. And the excuses? They've heard them all.
    • Public input asked on new area water sources
      ST. PETERSBURG -- A public hearing Tuesday in St. Petersburg invites residents to speak up about how future water supplies should be selected for the Tampa Bay area.

    March 31, 2001

    March 30, 2001

    March 24, 2001

    March 23, 2001

    March 22, 2001

    March 21, 2001

    March 20, 2001

    March 18, 2001

    March 17, 2001

    March 16, 2001

    March 13, 2001

    March 11, 2001

    March 9, 2001

    March 9, 2001

    • Parched
      Wells and waterways are running dry around the state, but experts say the worst of the drought is yet to come.
    • Swiftmud may lower banks of two rivers
      The aim is to retain excess river water that otherwise empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The water would rehydrate wetlands and help renew underground water supplies.
    • Ban on new reclaimed water hookups may end
      If the proposal is approved, new hookups would be allowed only on streets that already have reclaimed water lines.

    March 4, 2001

    March 2, 2001

    • Water rates to rise in April
      Drought contributes to a 5 percent increase. That will cost an average customer $8 a year -- with more raises on the horizon.

    Feb. 24, 2001

    • State, federal officials plan for worst as drought lingers
      WASHINGTON -- A team of Florida disaster specialists met with federal emergency officials Friday to brief them on the wildfires and drought tearing through the heart of the state, and what could happen if conditions do not improve.

    Feb. 23, 2001

    Feb. 17, 2001

    • Drought enables weed removal
      When low water levels prevent county workers from clearing the channels in the Tsala Apopka chain, they tackle a project that has been discussed for years.

    Feb. 14, 2001

    Feb. 10, 2001

  • New wave of drought rules may hit Crystal River
    Water use and fire restrictions are in the works as "the worst drought any of us have ever seen" continues.
  • Wildfire chars 1,200 acres
    Almost all of Citrus County's volunteer fire departments helped fight the blaze, which began Thursday afternoon on a dry lake bed in the southeastern part of the county.
  • Reminders all around of Oldsmar fire peril
    Scouts and fire officials go door-to-door today to warn residents of the area's brushfire danger.

    Feb. 9, 2001

    • Conserve water or pay more
      That's the message county commissioners hope to send. They agree to seek higher water rates and hope surrounding counties will follow their lead.

    Feb. 7, 2001

    Feb. 6, 2001

    Feb. 4, 2001

    Feb. 2, 2001

    Jan. 27, 2001

    • Where there’s smoke...
      There isn't always fire. Haze in the bay area Friday came from burning swamp and brush miles away.

    Jan. 12, 2001

    Dec. 24, 2000

    • Courses over par in water use
      Swiftmud demands the four courses bring their pumping within limits or face fines. Two have requested increases.
    • Thirsty courses improvise to stay green
      One uses treated wastewater. Some use less fertilizer. Still others pump as much water as they can in one day, sometimes exceeding their permits.
    • Links say water use heavy but necessary
      Overpumping is common at three golf courses, drawing warnings from Swiftmud; representatives counter that there's no way to maintain them with once-a-week watering.

    Dec. 8, 2000

    Nov. 5, 2000

    Nov. 3, 2000

    • 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."

    Sept. 18, 2000

    July 8, 2000

    July 1, 2000

    June 30, 2000

    June 28, 2000

    • Watering restrictions extended
      With a spring disaster narrowly averted and the aquifer not replenished by recent rains, Swiftmud votes to keep once-a-week limits.

    June 27, 2000

    June 24, 2000

    June 21, 2000

    June 20, 2000

    June 19, 2000

    June 16, 2000

    • Crisis isn't over, water watchers say
      While rain has helped, it will take more downpours before Tampa can consider easing lawn watering rules.
    • Drought jeopardizes water deal
      Tampa Bay Water had agreed not to pump more than 158-million gallons a day and to significantly reduce that amount by Dec. 31, 2002. The drought could change all that.
    • Rains relieve, pummel county
      Way back when -- only last week, actually -- Citrus County residents were clamoring for rain to feed their parched yards and dried-up lake beds after months of drought.

    June 15, 2000

    June 14, 2000

    June 13, 2000

    June 12, 2000

    June 8, 2000

    June 7, 2000

    June 6, 2000

    June 5, 2000

    June 4, 2000

    June 3, 2000

    June 2, 2000

    Aug. 13, 2001

    May 30, 2000

    May 28, 2000

    May 27, 2000

    May 26, 2000

    May 24, 2000

    May 23, 2000

    May 21, 2000

    May 20, 2000

    May 19, 2000

    May 18, 2000

    May 17, 2000

    May 16, 2000

    May 14, 2000

    May 13, 2000

    May 12, 2000

    May 11, 2000

    May 9, 2000

  • Hillsborough sprinklers hit record on Sunday
  • Area firefighters pull double duty
  • Letters: New water restrictions, like old, won't do much good
  • May 6, 2000

  • 270 Pasco residents get ticketed in crackdown on watering
  • May 4, 2000

  • More watering limits in Tampa a possibility
  • Water wait could end soon
  • Drought is a bird-watcher's pal
  • May 3, 2000

  • Citrus eases into new water regulation
  • May 2, 2000

  • Water rules may drop pressure.
  • Water rules sow confusion in Citrus
  • April 28, 2000

  • Hernando won't ask for watering waiver after all
  • Fires, drought don't mix in Pasco
  • Bargain flows to South Tampa
  • April 27, 2000

  • Hernando wants waiver on water rules
  • Tampa won't relax water rules
  • April 26, 2000

  • Swiftmud expands limits on watering
  • Swiftmud opens pocketbook for the environment
  • Dade City rejects watering rules
  • County to repay cost of cleaning up sprinklers
  • April 25, 2000

  • Zephyrhills loosens car wash water rules
  • April 18, 2000

  • Beware of home water treatment scams
  • Grace period ending for water code violators
  • Interest in water reuse swells
  • Water board balks at price of study
  • April 14, 2000

  • Tampa loosens grip on water valves
  • Replacing the rain
  • Two accused in bogus water test scheme
  • Water level steady at Tampa reservoir
  • Pasco puts foot down on pumping.
  • Port Richey tightens limits on residents' daily water use
  • Sprinkling residents keep water police busy
  • April 13, 2000

  • Weather, firefighters allied against wildfire
  • April 12, 2000

  • Council looking for water solutions
  • April 11, 2000

  • Cool winds whip up conditions for wildfires
  • Illicit campfires menace regional water source
  • Water board votes to study a second desalination plant
  • April 10, 2000

  • Rules begin to spring leaks
  • April 6, 2000

  • Reclaimed water use goes up
  • April 4, 2000

  • Sweater weather to blow in
  • April 2, 2000

  • Water warnings increase
  • March 31, 2000

  • Reclaimed water avoids mandatory rules
  • Citrus County resists watering limits
  • March 29, 2000

  • Swiftmud demurs on water limits
  • Citrus okays forming water advisory panel
  • Hernando passes a burn ban
  • Dade City cuts off more water rules
  • Zephyrhills puts limits on outdoor watering
  • March 28, 2000

  • Water use takes dip, then surges
  • A teasing rain sprinkles parched bay area
  • March 27, 2000

  • Brush fire scorches 5 acres, threatens homes in Oldsmar
  • Water billing steams some
  • Pine beetle scourge spreads, aided by drought
  • March 26, 2000

  • Calls on water restrictions pour in
  • March 25, 2000

  • Tampa exemptions ease water limits
  • March 24, 2000

    March 23, 2000

  • Water restriction devil is in details
  • Rationing may hit recycled water
  • Most cities wait to enact restrictions
  • New Port Richey restricts watering
  • Region's many watering rules sow confusion
  • Drought less urgent for Citrus
  • Fire, water rules may be faces of drought
  • March 22, 2000

  • Bay area water restrictions are widened
  • greco home
    [Times files, 1999]
    The lushly landscaped home of Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.
    Officials: Water as
    we say, not as we did

    Some who cut back outdoor use, including Tampa's mayor, have been using far more than the county's residential average

    March 21, 2000

    March 19, 2000

    March 18, 2000

    March 17, 2000

  • watering restrictions
    Tampa Bay area
    water restrictions

    By county, here are rules that in most cases enhance Swiftmud water-use guidelines:
    Citrus | Hernando | Hillsborough | Pasco | Pinellas | Tampa | St. Petersburg

    Water-saving tips for better lawns and gardens

    • Apply one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water to grass. That equates to 20 minutes for sprinklers with fixed heads and 45 to 60 minutes for rotating-head sprinklers.
    • Check sprinkler systems on watering days for broken parts. Make sure sprinklers are applying water evenly to avoid brown spots.
    • Add mulch to plant beds to keep the ground from drying out.
    • Cut the grass high so it shades the ground and creates deeper root growth.
    • Get a free sprinkler system evaluation, if available, from your municipality's water department.
    • Water in early morning as opposed to late in the evening to prevent fungus from growing on grass and plants.
    • When you cut the lawn, try to keep it about 3 to 4 inches high so the grass retains more water. A sharp blade produces a cleaner cut that heals more quickly and loses less water.
    • Scatter 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the bottom of shrubs and trees to retain water. Folded or droopy leaves indicate the plant is thirsty.
    • Fertilizers promote growth and increase a plant's need for water, but annuals and vegetables need food to help them produce flowers and vegetables. Use a water-soluble fertilizer, a 6-6-6 or 6-8-8, at half strength about every two weeks.
    • Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their need for water.
    • Flower beds, vegetable gardens and other non-lawn areas may be irrigated as needed using hoses with automatic shut-offs, hand-watering, micro-irrigation and other low-volume watering methods.
    • "Gray water," or recycled rinse and bath water can be used on plants; however, avoid water containing bath oil, foam or salts. Plants in containers can be damaged by alkaline build-up. Do not use gray water on indoor plants.
    • In desperate times, stop irrigating Bahia grass and allow it to go dormant. Bahia grass will turn brown but recovers well when irrigation resumes. St. Augustine grass will die if not irrigated.
    • Thin dense beds of plants to reduce competition among them.

    -- Sources: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the Scotts Co., Times Garden Section

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