PLANT CITY — The unexpected appearance of new sinkholes has prompted county officials to close portions of six east Hillsborough roads since Friday.
The sinkholes might be caused by a sudden drop in groundwater levels, which already are below normal because of a prolonged drought, county and water management officials said. That temporary drop, they said, could stem from last week's freeze, when farmers pumped more water to form a protective layer of ice on their strawberry crops.
None of the sinkholes threaten homes, county spokesman Steve Valdez said.
It's unclear how long the sinkholes on Whitelaw, Moores Lake, Gallagher, Sydney, Lone Oak and Drawdy roads, will affect traffic, Valdez said.
The price tag for road repairs remains unknown, along with the sinkholes' actual size. The visible parts of the sinkholes are one-foot deep depressions in the asphalt, Valdez said. Road workers must wait for them to stop sinking before excavating to determine their breadth.
"To have this many occur is unusual," Valdez said. Some new sinkholes are normal after protective irrigation, he said.
"Our (well) water was real sandy, then it cleared up," said Candice Waters, who lives on U.S. 92 at Whitelaw Road. The lack of traffic makes for a quieter neighborhood, but she worries about the upcoming weeks. "If it's still like that during the (Strawberry) Festival, it's a problem," Waters said.
Last checked after January's freeze, the groundwater drop at test wells in Dover was 10 to 37 feet, said Southwest Florida Water Management District Spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
Agricultural and industrial users have annual limits on water use but are permitted to use varying amounts at different times of the year, she said.
Strawberry growers said it's unfair to attribute the drop to protective irrigation. "It's a broad problem with many people pulling water," said Ted Campbell, Florida Strawberry Growers Association director.
Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.