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Honeymoon Island residents deal with water shortage with laughs, a few gripes

DUNEDIN — Jeanne Dittrich walked from the high-rise condo to the tanker down the block pushing a shopping cart loaded with four empty buckets.

"A fillup, please," Dittrich's friend said. A city employee grabbed a jug and bent to the tanker's spigot. Water rushed out. "Want us to check your oil, too?" he joked.

With a full cart, Dittrich turned back toward the sixth-floor condo in the Royal Stewart Arms complex for another long walk.

"It's a big inconvenience doing this three times a day," she said.

It has been more than a week since the main water pipe to Honeymoon Island was cut, leading to a citywide water crisis. On the island, water pressure has been low or nonexistent. City officials have told mainland residents to conserve water.

The water main break occurred Feb. 2 when a construction company working on the Dunedin Causeway bridge accidentally drilled into the water main. A map the city provided the contractors had placed the water main in another location, so workers didn't know it was below them until they hit it.

Tuesday's rain and winds delayed work on a temporary pipe, which still needs to be sunk and reconnected before the island's water supply is back online, city water division director Paul Stanek said. Workers will try again Wednesday to connect and weld the 16-inch high-density pipe, which can be seen snaking along the causeway's shore.

Because of the delay, Stanek said, the island's supply may not be online by Friday as projected.

At Royal Stewart Arms, the island's expansive condo complex of about 500 people, it was feared the community's disabled or eldest residents would need a lot of help dealing with dry taps. Property manager Sharon Wilson said some residents at the 55-and-older complex, now in its busy snowbird season, are in their 90s.

Some residents left to wait out the week with family or friends. Others are now sticking the crisis out with a laugh, joking that the changes have made things around the island more exciting.

"I feel like I'm camping," said Dorothy Miller, who lives on the sixth floor. She and two other residents — towels and beach chair in hand — headed across the Dunedin Causeway on Monday to shower at her friend's daughter's home.

Two portable toilets have been placed outside Miller's tower; a dozen others are scattered around the complex. Near the community office, a trailer with four showers, sinks and toilets provided warm water to residents who had been asked to turn off their water heaters.

The most popular commodity, however, seemed to be the 6,000-gallon tanker at the center of the complex, which was provided by the city of St. Petersburg. Residents refilled their water supply from its six blue spigots.

Phyllis Labelle, 92, wore an oversized jacket and orthopedic sneakers on her walk there Monday. She used the water to brush her teeth, wash her strawberries and brew decaffeinated coffee.

The boil water notice, which she posted on her cabinet, didn't faze her.

"Up in Michigan, we have wells," she said. "I'm okay with boiling water."

Not everyone was so accepting. Dave Jeffers, 76, left his fourth-floor home in the rain Tuesday to refill his gallon jugs.

"It was okay for the first couple days," Jeffers said, "but now it's getting old."

Updates on the water situation will be posted in the complex's bulletin boards, alongside a notice from this weekend that symbolized some residents' optimism.

"Super Bowl Party is on," it read, in all capital letters. "Come hell or no water!!"

Times staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Honeymoon Island residents deal with water shortage with laughs, a few gripes 02/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 10:38am]
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