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Dry times require better enforcement of water restrictions

The green lawn is about to cost some green in court if you're watering it illegally. The sprinkles from this week's cold front aside, the Tampa Bay region remains in an extended drought and Pasco County is cracking down on property owners violating the restrictions on landscape irrigation. It is a welcome response to the early morning watering scofflaws who put a premium on lush lawns over conservation.

As Times staff writer David DeCamp reported, Pasco deputized 30 county utility workers enabling them to issue citations to people violating the once-a-week watering restrictions. The county issued 79 citations last week, 55 of them by utility workers. County code enforcement officers also write the tickets, which carry a $30 fine, plus court costs, for first-time offenders.

Giving authority to utility workers is a sensible way to beef up enforcement. It more than triples the amount of personnel scrutinizing lawn watering without taxing the county's general budget. Utility workers' salaries are covered by the rates paid by county water and sewer customers. It also extends the hours of enforcement since utility staffers work as early as 4 a.m.

"It's more feet on the ground,'' said Code Enforcement Director Richard Ortiz.

The crackdown signals an imperative point to the public: The county is serious about reducing unnecessary water consumption during this drought.

It is an appropriate strategy. Much of the county's growth has occurred since the 1998 creation of the regional water utility, Tampa Bay Water, and the settlement of long-standing disputes over groundwater pumping here to serve the region. Newer residents might not have the appreciation for the environmental damage, costly litigation, citizen involvement and political pressure that preceded the decade-old accord. Instead, in some quarters, there is a simple sense of entitlement to, or a deed restriction requiring, a green lawn, even during the dry season.

Such thinking must change. Tampa Bay Water has said more than 12,200 acres of wetlands, mostly in Pasco, are damaged and not expected to fully recover even though groundwater pumping has been reduced as alternative water sources came on line.

Pasco County has adopted landscaping and tree-protection ordinances encouraging the public to plant native and drought-tolerant vegetation; approved utility rates to encourage less consumption; devised a rebate program for low-flow toilets; and sponsors, along with the Cooperative Extension, regular public information and landscape workshops on using less water.

Reinforcing the importance of conservation is why the utility workers are now writing tickets to people who fail to obey the county's once-a-week watering restrictions. Many of the scofflaws are watering at odd hours, believing they are escaping scrutiny.

County water rules allow owners of property of less than 2 acres to use potable water once a week before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m., but not both. The assigned water day corresponds to the final number of a property's street address. The rules are different for reclaimed water customers. Check the county's Web site or contact the county utilities department for information.

Homeowners need to brush up on those rules. They should be showing prudence in watering their lawns no matter what time of day it is.

Dry times require better enforcement of water restrictions 11/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 5:44pm]
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