As expected, the continuing drought prompted state water officials Thursday to limit lawn watering in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties to one day a week.
The last number of street addresses determines which day to water on the new schedule, which takes effect immediately. The rules say watering should be done before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to avoid evaporation.
Under the restrictions, fountains can operate only four hours a day. Car washing is limited to once a week, although fundraiser and commercial carwashes are exempt. Restaurants can serve water only upon a customer's request.
Previously the Southwest Florida Water Management District had allowed two-day-a-week watering in the Tampa Bay region. But last month the agency's board — commonly known as Swiftmud — imposed once-a-week watering restrictions on Hernando and Citrus counties and other areas north of Tampa. It also gave its executive director the power to impose the same restrictions on the more southern Tampa Bay counties.
On Thursday, Blake Guillory did just that, extending the limits to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Those restrictions are set to last through July 31.
"This year's hotter and drier than normal conditions following last year's below-average rainfall have caused critically low river flows and declining groundwater levels throughout the district," said Lois Sorensen, who manages Swiftmud's demand management program.
The once-a-week restrictions do not apply to homes using reclaimed water for sprinkling their lawns, said Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
In the 16 counties covered by Swiftmud, this was the 11th driest winter since records started in 1915, and spring has been no better. Since the dry season started in October, 11.7 inches of rain were recorded across those 16 counties, far below the normal average of 18 inches.
However, weather experts say once June arrives — and the start of the hurricane season — rains may return.
The last time the Tampa Bay area had to switch to once-a-week watering, the restrictions lasted from January 2007 to June 2010.