Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tougher water restrictions are likely on the way

State water officials are likely to impose the tightest watering restrictions in the region's history next week to cope with the Tampa Bay region's continuing water shortage.

Tampa Bay Water, the region's water wholesaler, sought the stepped-up restrictions a month ago, but the Southwest Florida Water Management District board rejected the request at the recommendation of its executive director, Dave Moore.

However, the drought continues, and in the past month, local officials have done more to crack down on those violating the current restrictions.

So now the staff of the agency commonly known as Swiftmud will recommend imposing the tougher restrictions, known as Phase 4, when the board meets Tuesday.

In an op-ed column running in today's St. Petersburg Times, Moore writes, "In light of the stepped-up conservation efforts by local governments, district staff believes these restrictions are now warranted and will be enforced in a meaningful way to reflect the actual conditions in the region."

Phase 4 restrictions would likely prohibit a variety of water uses, such as the operation of ornamental fountains and fundraising carwashes. Pressure washing would be limited to only cases involving a threat to health or safety, basically forbidding that practice.

Offices and stores in buildings that use water cooling towers for air conditioning are likely to be required to set their thermostats at 78 degrees or above.

And while lawn watering would still be allowed, the hours would probably be cut back.

That's still not as strict as what the Tampa City Council imposed last week: No lawn sprinkling at all, period.

As of Friday, Moore and his staff were still working out exactly what the Phase 4 restrictions will entail, Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said.

"We're looking at reduced hours for irrigation and looking at nonessential water uses such as residential pressure washing, residential car washing and fountains," she said.

Moore's staff is also supposed to present a report on "economic impact findings" from the stepped-up restrictions, but Felix said that's still in the works.

"The situation that we face continues to be critical and any action taken by the regulatory agency can only help in managing water supply during this drought," Tampa Bay Water manager Gerald Seeber said upon learning Moore's recommendation.

Since last year, the Tampa Bay region has been under a version of the Phase 3 restrictions, which limits lawn sprinkling to once a week.

The region has been suffering from a drought for three years, and weather experts predict the dry spell is likely to continue until at least the start of the rainy season in June.

The underground aquifer is more than 2 feet below its normal level. Lakes throughout the Tampa Bay area are half a foot below where they were last year. The Hillsborough and Alafia rivers, which help provide water for the region, have dropped to just 2 percent of their normal flow.

The C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, which can hold 15 billion gallons, has been drained, and the desalination plant in Apollo Beach is struggling to produce more than 15 million gallons a day. Most of the water now is coming from Tampa Bay Water's 11 well fields, where an increase in pumping beyond the permitted limit is likely to further drain lakes, wetlands and private wells.

On Jan. 27 — a day when lawn watering was allowed throughout the area — people in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties used about 257 million gallons of water. By comparing that with a day when watering wasn't allowed, Tampa Bay Water officials figure 55 million gallons of water went to keep lawns green.

When the Swiftmud board considered the utility's request for Phase 4 restrictions last month, board members said they were concerned about the economic impact on agriculture and other businesses. Instead they encouraged local governments to step up enforcement of the Phase 3 limits.

>>Fast facts

What might be coming

Phase 4 watering restrictions are likely to include:

• Shorter hours for once-a-week lawn watering.

• Ban on use of ornamental fountains.

• Ban on residential pressure-washing.

• Ban on personal and fundraising carwashes.

• Buildings that use water cooling towers for air-conditioning required to set thermostat at 78 or higher.

Tougher water restrictions are likely on the way 03/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 1:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake Snell struggles in return as Rays fall to Pirates

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — Blake Snell talked a good game ahead of his return to the Rays rotation Wednesday night, but he didn't pitch one.

    ON THE BALL: Rays third baseman Evan Longoria makes the play and the throw during the first inning against the Pirates.
  2. College World Series title puts Florida Gators in elite company


    The Florida Gators put themselves in rare company with Tuesday night's College World Series national championship victory.

    Florida ace and Tampa native Alex Faedo (21) lets loose with his teammates after they win the Gators’ first baseball national title.
  3. Lightning prospects mantra: You never know when NHL chance will appear

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Brett Howden said he watched closely last season as former junior teammate Brayden Point made an remarkable rise to a Lightning regular in his first year pro.

    Lightning prospect Mikhail Sergachev skates during the Lightning Development Camp Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. McConnell trying to revise the Senate health care bill by Friday


    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health care bill to the Congressional Budget Office as soon as Friday as he continues to push for a vote before Congress' August recess.

    Protesters rally against the Senate Republican health care bill Wednesday on the east front of the Capitol building.
  5. Police raise likely death toll in London high-rise blaze


    LONDON — The number of people killed or presumed dead in the London high-rise fire has inched up to 80, but the final death toll may not be known for months, British police said at a grim briefing Wednesday.