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Water-for-hire demand fades to drizzle, done in by record rainfall and the end of a sprinkling ban

Laid-off geologist Adrienne Perez posted signs around Tampa offering to water lawns for $20 an hour. No one hired her.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Laid-off geologist Adrienne Perez posted signs around Tampa offering to water lawns for $20 an hour. No one hired her.

TAMPA — As the area's three-year drought stretched on and automatic sprinklers across Tampa switched off, Jackie Perez had an idea.

Her daughter, a recently laid-off geologist looking for work, would water lawns. Unlike some homeowners pinched by the city's sprinkling ban, Adrienne Perez had time to spare. The women posted leaflets on utility poles and staked signs across Seminole Heights: "Your Water + My Time = No Fine."

"It was a great idea," said Adrienne Perez, 33, from her lawn-less South Tampa condominium. "I wish I could have gotten something from it."

During the last two months, Perez and other entrepreneurs saw browning grass as a cash crop. Tankers of reclaimed water, unbound by city regulation, sated greeneries across town while the ban, which began April 3 and ended Monday, saved the city about 500 million gallons.

But last month's record rainfall proved bad for business. When the ban ended, the water-for-hire enterprise dried up.

"Business is over," said Harry Michalek, owner of ProTurf Landscapes Inc., who rented two tankers for $6,500 a month. "It was red hot. I had to get a second truck. It was fabulous."

More than 300 customers, from small lots in South Tampa to condos along Bayshore Boulevard, sought Michalek's irrigation at 15 cents a gallon plus a $50 service charge. For an average yard soaking up 500 gallons, he said, the cost would be $125. The water, delivered in bulk from Tampa's wastewater treatment plant, was given away free by the city.

Not everyone enjoyed the same success.

JVS Contracting secretary April Heyder said her demolition and site work company saw in reclaimed water an opportunity for extra revenue. It advertised, established pricing and prepared its three 4,000-gallon trucks for sprinkling.

Business, she said, was a wash.

"We had about 10 customers that were pretty frequent," Heyder said, "but as soon as it started to rain, people started to cancel."

Sandra Anderson, a manager for Tampa's water department, said she received 60 requests from people interested in buying reclaimed water in bulk once the ban took effect.

"I was probably getting a minimum of five calls a day," Anderson said. "I don't think I've received one phone call (last) week."

Neither has Perez. For all the signs and interested clients, no one took her up on her $20-an-hour offer of lawn watering.

"I don't know if it was too novel of an idea for some people," Perez said, "or if people didn't think that their lawn was worth it."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Water-for-hire demand fades to drizzle, done in by record rainfall and the end of a sprinkling ban 06/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 12, 2009 9:19pm]
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