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Water restrictions lead to big usage cuts in Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — During the first week of the region's tightest-ever water restrictions, the Tampa Bay area cut back its water use by about 126 million gallons.

That figure includes a 75 million gallon reduction by customers of Tampa Bay Water, the utility that serves Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

In Tampa, which relies largely on the Hillsborough River for water, the savings was more than 51 million gallons for the week of April 3-9, compared with the seven previous days.

Tampa's rules are more stringent than the rest of the region's, with a total ban on lawn sprinkling. Water officials, though, warn it will take more time to determine the real impact of the restrictions.

"What's not evident is how much is due to the restrictions and how much is due to climatic conditions, such as rainfall," said Barton Weiss, director of strategic water management for Hillsborough County, which reported a 10 million gallon drop in water use by its 156,000 customers in the first week of the new rules. "You need to wrap it around a trend."

A day or two of rain, which occurred just after the rules went into effect, can make a big difference in water use, Weiss said.

Pinellas County utilities, which have 112,000 customers, reported a 2.3 million gallon drop in water use. St. Petersburg puts its savings at 1 million gallons.

"The reductions that we've seen for the first week are a good indication, and we want to continue to watch and monitor and ensure that it stays that way," said George Cassady, director of St. Petersburg's Water Resources Department, which serves about 90,000 customers.

The new restrictions generally limit lawn sprinkling to one day a week from midnight to 4 a.m., ban residential car and pressure-washing, prohibit ornamental fountains and require buildings that use water cooling towers for air-conditioning to set thermostats at 78 degrees or higher.

The board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, approved the new rules March 31.

The Tampa Bay region has been caught in a three-year drought. The dry spell is expected to continue at least until the start of the rainy season in June.

Meanwhile, the Hillsborough River has hit record lows. Tampa officials say unrestrained water use could make it impossible to get water to parts of the city.

Tampa Bay Water also is struggling to keep up with demand. Its 15 billion gallon reservoir has already run dry, and its desalination plant is operating below capacity.

The restrictions imposed by Swiftmud, which represents 16 counties, cover only the three counties served by Tampa Bay Water.

Sue Chase, water customer affairs manager for Pasco County, said her office has been flooded with calls from people asking for information on the restrictions.

"It's a big change for people," she said.

On the other hand, she said, she has heard few complaints about the rules.

"They aren't angry," she said. "They just want to understand: When do I water, what can I do, what can't I do?"

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Water restrictions lead to big usage cuts in Tampa Bay area 04/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 13, 2009 11:31pm]
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