SEMINOLE — Is this city a water restriction scofflaw or the victim of a confusing set of rules designed to conserve water during a drought?
That depends. The city has been running its fountains, apparently in violation of restrictions instituted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud. But city officials say they got an okay from Swiftmud to turn them on.
"Will the real Swiftmud please stand up and tell us what we're supposed to be doing?" asked Mark Ely, who oversees the city's code enforcement department.
Ely said the city's fountains will be turned off until officials get a written ruling from Swiftmud explaining what fountains can run and under what conditions.
Ely said he's going to go one step further when Swiftmud gives clear guidance: He's going to go to residents and let them know what they are allowed to do under the rules.
It's hard enough for government to figure out what the water management district wants, Ely said, so it's got to be "really bad" and unfair to property owners who are left in the dark.
"It's sad," he said.
Earlier this year, Swiftmud banned the running of fountains to conserve water during the drought. Residents of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties whose water comes from Tampa Bay Water, or from a government that gets its water from Tampa Bay Water, are subject to the restrictions unless the fountain uses saltwater or reclaimed water.
Violators are subject to whatever fines or other punishments a city decides to impose, said Robyn Felix, Swiftmud spokeswoman. And the city uses neither reclaimed nor saltwater in its fountains, like the one in front of City Hall, 9199 113th St. N.
Felix confirmed Friday that Seminole is subject to the rules and should have shut off its fountains when rules went into effect. What happens if the city is the violator?
"I guess they would have to fine themselves," Felix said. "I think the first answer would be that they would have to be shut off immediately."
But Felix called the Times back later to reverse her stance. Swiftmud had contacted Seminole after a Times reporter called to ask about the city's status with regard to the restrictions.
That's when Swiftmud discovered that many of the fountains, like the one in front of City Hall, are not using drinking water.
"It's swamp water out of the retention pond," Ely said.
Swiftmud told Seminole the fountains could run for a few hours each day but signs had to be posted saying the water was not drinkable. Seminole had no such signs.
"We are going to post our properties," Ely said. "Nobody knew about that one."