Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Drought forces tougher watering restrictions around Tampa Bay

Water restrictions will go into effect next month as the region grapples with the driest dry season on record in 103 years, the Southwest Florida Water Management District said Tuesday.

The new restrictions will remain in place in 16 counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco, through Aug. 1. Lawn watering will be limited to one day a week. Car washing will also be limited and homeowners' associations will not be allowed to enforce deed restrictions that could cause an increase in water use by requiring residents to keep their lawns green.

Those steps were announced just as weather forecasts point to the first signs of relief from the severe drought conditions, with rainfall expected to arrive in Tampa Bay today.

"We're getting some rain this week, but we don't know what this looks like past this week," said water management district spokeswoman Susanna Martinez Tarokh. "We are just doing this to prevent any possible water shortage issues down the road."

From October through April, Tampa Bay saw fewer than 5 inches of rainfall. Today's expected downpours could bring half that amount in some areas.

"Because the ground's almost so hard from being dry that it would run off, what we need is a really good soaking rain versus a heavy downpour," said 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Bobby Deskins. But he added, "We will take it. We need it."

National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Davis said the rainfall won't be a "drought buster."

"Our soil is so dry that you would need long periods of rain to get down to the aquifer," he said.

This dry season sparked wildfires across the state, some of them destroying homes and businesses and triggering evacuations. More than 2,000 wildfires have erupted in the state since January, according to Florida Forest Service numbers.

The water management district, commonly known as Swiftmud, said residents should check with their own counties and cities for any additional watering restrictions or for how those restrictions will be applied. In past periods of drought, some governments have limited watering to certain days of the week or to early morning and evening hours.

Later this week, Deskins said, dry conditions are expected to return. But more afternoon showers may be on the horizon next week as the rainy season approaches in June.

"We're getting there," he said.

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.

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