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Rains can't compensate for water pumping in Hernando County

My friends from Spring Hill sounded as though they'd seen an animal presumed to be extinct.

Playing tennis or walking on the trail at Delta Woods Park, they told me, they could look to the east and actually see water.

Yes, they said, this summer's heavy rains had brought the formerly puddle-like Lake Theresa back to life.

Old-timers say there was a fishing resort on it once. Brochures for the original Spring Hill development showed happy people water-skiing and fishing in lakes. Homeowners built docks that have been sadly high and dry for years.

A paddle around the lake when it was high, I figured, would show what a great asset it would be to have a 350-acre body of water in the middle of our biggest population center.

So I strapped the canoe on the car Sunday afternoon, drove out to Delta Woods and saw that, unfortunately, reports of the lake's revival had been exaggerated. The water wasn't even high enough to cover the weeds.

"It doesn't look very inviting," said my oldest son, who'd agreed to go with me even though he's as tired of going on canoe trips as you probably are of reading about them.

Even if you are, hopefully you still wonder why the lake is so low after all our big rains.

For one thing, those rains might not have been as big as we thought. The June rainfall in Hernando — 19.72 inches — was more than three times the historical average, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. July and August, though, were pretty much normal.

"I think it's been such a long time since we had a good, solid rainy season that people forgot what it's like," said Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

I also have to point out that even though Lake Theresa's levels from decades ago were higher than in recent years, it always came and went.

But here's what else is going on:

Pumping. Lots of it.

At the height of the building boom, in 2006, the Hernando County water system sucked up 9.5 billion gallons of groundwater, much of it on the west side of the county, from the aquifer under the lakes. That amount fell to 7.9 billion gallons the next year, when there were fewer newly sodded lawns to water and the county went from allowing homeowners to water twice a week to once.

Generally, pumping has dropped slowly ever since, with the major exception coming in May of last year, when the County Commission decided there was plenty of water available and no problem with pumping twice a week.

Except that county customers used 3.5 million gallons more in June of 2011 than they had in 2010. And to give you an idea of how much total water is pumped, that's what county utility people consider a slight increase.

Because of the drought, Swiftmud returned to once-a-week watering last March. Then, last month, it went back to allowing twice-a-week watering.

County commissioners could have, too. But last week, they joined some of the state's more enlightened local leaders and decided not to.

Good. Because there isn't plenty of water. And I don't want full lakes in Spring Hill to be as rare as woolly mammoths.

Follow Dan DeWitt on Twitter.com@ddewitttimes.

Rains can't compensate for water pumping in Hernando County 09/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:07pm]
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