PLANT CITY — With temperatures rising and the winter harvest long over, water officials are making plans to avoid the kind of water use that caused sinkholes and dry wells during heavy winter freezes on eastern Hillsborough farms.
Earlier this month, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, enacted a new list of water-use rules for Dover and Plant City.
The rules include creating a new process for allocating dry well complaints, declaring a 256-square-mile water-use caution area and establishing a minimum aquifer level. The rules also establish a minimum aquifer level protection zone and require automatic meter-reading devices.
Robyn Felix, Swiftmud spokeswoman, said the district will help farmers pay for meter-reading devices and fund up to 75 percent of costs for alternative freeze protection projects such as crop covers.
"We worked closely with the agriculture community to create a new set of rules," she said. "We want to make sure the farmers continue to do good business."
During the unprecedented 11-night freeze in January 2010, farmers pumped groundwater in an attempt to save crops. Officials received reports of more than 750 dry wells and 140 sinkholes, most of which were directly related to the water use.
Farmers drained aquifers in eastern Hillsborough County to the point of causing harm throughout January 2010, according to Swiftmud.
For a detailed description of the new water-use restrictions, visit WaterMatters.org/frost-freeze.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.