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In drought, watering lawns turns serious

Let Joan Popo's experience be a lesson to you: Don't water your lawn on the wrong day. All kinds of bad things could happen. Popo ended up at the Pinellas County Jail being fingerprinted and paying bail to avoid spending the night in a cell.

Popo's first mistake was allowing her sprinklers to run on a day when lawn watering was not allowed. Popo and her husband believe their sprinkler timer malfunctioned.

No matter the reason, Popo found a watering violation notice on her door Dec. 10, 2008. On Jan. 20, a county official brought Popo a citation for watering illegally on Dec. 10. The fine: $188.

That's when Popo made her second mistake. She didn't read the entire citation. The part she skipped said she had to pay the $188 fine within 30 days or show up for a Feb. 20 court appearance. Since she didn't read that part, and since she and her husband, Eden, planned to contest the fine, she missed the court date. An arrest warrant was issued for her failure to appear in court, and Popo was booked and fingerprinted and bail cost her $213.

Watering violations are serious business these days. The Tampa Bay region is in the grips of a three-year drought that has ground and surface water supplies abnormally low. Adding to the crisis is that Tampa Bay Water's reservoir is now so low it can no longer supply water. The region isn't likely to get relief until summer rains begin in June.

While some residents take watering restrictions seriously, others are nonchalant. They figure that if they get caught running their sprinklers on the wrong day, they will just get a warning.

However, warnings are not being issued anymore in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, and as Popo learned, the fine for watering on the wrong day is more than just a drop in the bucket.

Your chances of getting caught are higher, too, because many communities have extra enforcement officers patrolling the streets, even at night, to catch water violators.

In most areas, lawn watering is allowed only one day a week and only between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., when there is less evaporation. To find out when you can water and to get more specifics about your community's rules — there can be some variation — contact your local water department. You can also go to the Web site of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, at and click on links to your community's water restrictions.

Swiftmud officials also urge residents to skip their weekly watering whenever possible. A lot of people use drinking water on their lawns. Water officials are seriously worried about stretching drinking water supplies until summer if people keep pouring it on their grass.

For a host of reasons, it is smart to be careful about watering your lawn this year.

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In drought, watering lawns turns serious 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:30am]
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