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Water use ban may end

The 19-day-old ban on all outdoor water use in Pinellas and northwest Hillsborough counties may be lifted today _ but don't rush out to hose those lawns and wash those cars. The decision is not final until today and, even after the ban is lifted, the region remains under restrictions that prohibit watering on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

In order for the ban to be lifted, the water pipe that ruptured early this month must be working well, said Harold Aiken, general manager of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, which owns and operates the pipe.

Water resumed flowing through the repaired pipe Saturday morning. "It looks as if everything is holding together," Aiken said Sunday.

The pipeline, 7 feet in diameter, extends 17 miles from central Pasco County to Pinellas County's northern border. A 20-foot section of the line ruptured Oct. 3.

Although the pipeline was designed to operate with 200 pounds per square inch of internal pressure, it was operating at about half that when it first ruptured in 1987. When it burst again this month, it was operating at about 70 pounds of pressure.

The authority plans to operate the fragile pipe at 60 to 65 pounds of pressure, Aiken said. That would give the weakened pipe a "margin of safety," because the estimated "rupture point" is about 80 pounds of pressure, he said.

The water supply authority has taken out newspaper advertisements telling of the "uncertain condition of the pipeline" and warning people to stay away from it because "failure of this pipeline can be explosive and result in injury and property damage."

Even if the pipeline returns to full operation today and the ban is lifted, that does not mean water is abundant.

Water officials said the well fields that supply Pinellas and St. Petersburg have been pumped to their limits during the pipeline's repair and need time to recover.

Lifting the ban and returning to water restrictions would mean no one may water on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

If the ban is lifted, people with even-numbered addresses may water on Tuesdays and Saturdays; those at odd-numbered addresses may water on Wednesdays and Sundays.