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New water rules bring flurry of questions

After state regulators announced tighter water restrictions for Pasco, Pinellas and Hills­borough counties on Tuesday, phones at local utilities started ringing off the hook.

Water users want to know: Do these rules apply to me?

"You have to kind of start off with what are you using to irrigate with. Then you can guide them through the rest of the restrictions," said Terrie Grace, enforcement supervisor for Pinellas County Utilities.

Her staff spent Wednesday educating themselves on the rules and updating the utility's Web site.

Rules for private well users in the three counties vary.

As far as state regulators are concerned, they're exempt from the new restrictions, which largely limit lawn sprinkling to one day a week from midnight to 4 a.m.

The restrictions were put in place specifically to reduce the strain on Tampa Bay Water, a regional utility that supplies drinking water to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties and many of their cities, said Robyn Felix, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.

"That's where the real shortage is right now," she said.

Private wells — there are more than 80,000 in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties — do not tap into the Tampa Bay Water system. So state regulators say well users can follow the same restrictions they have been.

However, local utilities can impose stricter regulations for wells. Most of them, including Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, and Tampa, do not. But St. Petersburg and Clearwater do.

"We're tougher on people," said George Cassady, water resources director for St. Petersburg. "We've always considered wells not distinguishable from the drinking water supply."

Cassady said it's a matter of enforcement. It's too complicated to have different rules for different residents.

• • •

Reclaimed water users also largely are free from the tighter rules. But in some places, restrictions do exist for reclaimed water use. On Wednesday, new regulations went into effect for Pinellas County reclaimed water users that limit watering to three days a week. Previous rules allowed unlimited watering with reclaimed water. The new rules remain in effect until Nov. 30.

• • •

When Tampa's ban on lawn sprinklers begins Friday, about 35,000 people who live outside city limits will have to abide by the prohibition. That's because they get their water from the city of Tampa, rather than Hills­borough County. Under direction from Swiftmud, Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday agreed to enforce the city's rules for county residents who use Tampa water.

• • •

Golfers don't need to worry about their fairways and greens. Golf courses — like farms — are exempt from Swiftmud's restrictions. That's because most are regulated by a water use permit or use reclaimed water.

"We're not really aware of any golf courses that are using public utility water from the Tampa Bay Water system," Felix said.

Also, most golf courses have sophisticated irrigation systems with soil moisture sensors that prevent overwatering, she said.

In the district's 16 counties, golf courses, cemeteries, parks and playgrounds use about six percent of the 1.2 billion gallons of water used every day, Felix said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

FAST FACTS

Learning the rules

The Southwest Florida Water Management District recommends contacting your local utility to determine exactly which water rules apply to you.

Those phone numbers are listed on Swiftmud's Web site at www.watermatters.org. You can also call Swiftmud at (800) 836-0797 ext. 2298.

New water rules bring flurry of questions 04/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 4:13am]
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