Summer rains already fall short of averages

The beginning of Florida's wet season has brought a lot of rain to Hernando County, but not enough if you ask officials at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Though state meteorologists predict an average wet season will pull the Tampa Bay area out of its 21/2-year drought, Swiftmud officials said above-average rain is needed to restore the area's water supply to normal levels.

So far, that hasn't happened.

In June, Swiftmud's north district, which includes Hernando County, received an average 6.53 inches of rain, while a typical June dumps 7.47 inches on the area.

In the meantime, lakes dried up, rivers flowed below normal levels and residents conserved water at the behest of water officials.

Aquifer levels are better now than they were at the same time last year, but they're still below average. On June 30, the most recent data collection, aquifer levels sat .41 feet below the low end of the normal range in the north district. In June 2007, aquifer levels were 1.51 feet below normal range.

It's better, but not good enough, said Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix.

"We still have a long way to go for our water resources to recover," Felix said.

Swiftmud extended watering restrictions through September to alleviate the problem, assigning residents one day per week to water their lawns. The restrictions, introduced in January 2007, could be extended again if the water supply remains low, Felix said. Normally, residents are allowed to water their lawns twice a week.

"Water conservation and water restriction is pretty much a way of life in the area," she said.

Felix encouraged residents to avoid soaking their lawns if summer rains bring enough water.

Rivers have recovered somewhat, but they are still below average. Stream flow readings on the Withlacoochee River near Trilby during May were among the lowest recorded levels historically. The river was healthier in June, but stream flow is still below the low end of the normal range.

While aquifer and river levels have improved compared to last year, lake levels are getting worse. In June, lake levels in Swiftmud's north district on average were 4.45 feet below the low end of the normal range, down from 4.44 feet in May and 4.43 feet in June 2007.

That means lakes are vanishing, leaving docks that end several feet before the shoreline and waterfront homes that no longer sit on water.

Chris and Julie Komenda moved into a home on Tooke Shore Drive, north of Weeki Wachee, nearly four years ago.

Problem is, they can no longer see the shore of Tooke Lake from their back yard.

"It almost seemed like it happened overnight," Julie said. "It was really, really pretty, too."

Chris doesn't know if the water, which receded out of sight nearly two years ago, will ever come back.

"Just to see it go and know what's causing it is kind of heartbreaking," Chris said, blaming overuse of water as a factor. "You know that you're part of the problem, too."

Lakes are typically the last resource to recover from drought, Felix said, adding that sitting water evaporates much easier. But they will return, she said.

When that happens, though, is anybody's guess.

"Really, there's no way of knowing till it actually happens," Felix said.

Michael Sanserino can be reached at msanserino@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1430.

21.49

inches of rain, January-June 2008.

23.47

inches of rain normally, January-June.

.41

feet below normal range for the Floridan aquifer in June 2008.

1.51

feet below normal range for the Floridan aquifer in June 2007.

Summer rains already fall short of averages 07/12/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 13, 2008 8:19pm]

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