Dorothy Herbinger is in the wrong business.
She's trying to sell fountains in the middle of Tampa Bay's biggest water crisis in years. This is a little like operating a clothing store at a nudist colony. The sales just are not happening.
"Call it distressing, very distressing," said Herbinger, 57, who with her husband, Ron, runs Southwest & Tropical in New Port Richey. "It's slamming us."
Starting today, the tightest watering restrictions in the region's history go into effect, not only curtailing lawn watering but also shutting down residential fountains and pressure-washing. But amid the clamp-down, there are lots of questions about the details.
Officials at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, better known as Swiftmud, say they have been inundated with questions about koi ponds and kiddie pools, birdbaths and Slip-N-Slides.
Herbinger, for instance, wanted to know if it's all right to keep operating a fountain if it's using distilled water.
There's a fountain she maintains at a local business that runs on bottles of water. She has found that it's cheaper to buy distilled water than use the stuff coming out of the tap, which tends to gum up the works and require serious fountain maintenance.
Since the distilled water is coming from a store she wondered if it's all right to keep that one fountain turned on.
The answer from Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix: The distilled-water fountain can still operate, but only four hours a day.
A lot of questions have come in about pools.
"We have not addressed pools," Felix said. So there are no restrictions on putting water in those, or on letting the kids zoom down a water-covered plastic sheet that might just happen to do a little irrigation work too.
Swiftmud officials approved the new watering restrictions on Tuesday. They hope the new rules will cut water use by 20 percent and save 50 million gallons a day.
St. Petersburg Times readers participating Thursday in an on-line chat about the new restrictions asked about bathing dogs (like pools, no rules on pet-bathing means no restrictions) and other water-related issues never contemplated by Swiftmud's regulatory staff.
What Felix called "the craziest question" so far came from someone who has a backyard pond stocked with koi, the colorful Japanese carp. The pond's fountain is keeping the fish alive, the owner said. Will Swiftmud save water by killing the koi? Felix said that, so far, no answer had surfaced.