Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Debby's massive rainfall hasn't ended watering restrictions — yet

Just because Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than a foot of rain on some parts of the Tampa Bay region, that doesn't mean state officials are ready to end the lawn-watering restrictions they imposed.

Those restrictions expire at the end of July, which is also the next time the Southwest Florida Water Management District's governing board meets. So far, the staff has not come up with a recommendation on whether the district board should extend them, according to Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix.

Before Debby hit, the region was suffering from a drought. The lack of rain had left lake, river and swamp levels low. In the 16 counties covered by Swiftmud, this past winter was the 11th driest since records started being kept in 1915.

So in April, Swiftmud imposed one-day-a-week watering restrictions on Hernando and Citrus counties, and in May extended those restrictions to Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Then in late June, Debby came along.

"Debby completely erased our rainfall deficit," Felix said Wednesday. Though there's been some rain, "there's been no substantial rainfall in July, and so now we're seeing our major rivers dropping rapidly."

The storm did boost Tampa Bay Water's supply, though, thanks to the rain-swollen rivers, according to spokeswoman Michelle Biddle Rapp.

The wholesale utility, which supplies water for Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, skimmed about 2.6 billion gallons of water beyond what it usually takes from the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal. Of that, 1.9 billion gallons was stored in the reservoir for the future.

Flood aid: Meanwhile, for people who were flooded out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened a disaster recovery center in New Port Richey at the Trouble Creek Square Shopping Center, 4444 Grand Blvd. The center will be open to offer aid to residents and business owners from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

Other recovery centers will open shortly in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, according to FEMA spokeswoman Renee Bafalis. Anyone who needs help can also call 1-800-621-FEMA or click on http://www.disasterassistance.gov, she said. So far $6.7 million in state and federal aid has been approved to help Debby victims.

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]

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