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Pipeline fixed; water restrictions eased

The giant pipeline is fixed, and the ban on outdoor water use is over in Pinellas and northwest Hillsborough counties. But the parched and populous region still thirsts. Strict water restrictions remain in effect for the 16-county region that includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus, Hernando and Manatee counties.

"You still have a two-year drought, you have water levels at record lows," said Scott Emery, director of resource management for the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.

The ban on outdoor watering began early this month after a 20-foot section of pipeline burst. The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, lifted the emergency ban on outdoor water use Monday after confirming that water was flowing through the repaired pipeline.

But prepare for at least three more two-week bans on outdoor water use before mid-March. During those periods, the pipeline will shut down for inspections, Emery said. No dates have been set, although it appears the first shutdown will be in early December.

"When the pipe is down, there's a possibility you cannot get enough water to handle people's needs, that's why the out-and-out ban," Emery said. "If you and I are watering our lawns and there is a fire somewhere, they may not get enough water to fight it."

Northwest Hillsborough and Pinellas counties had been under an outdoor watering ban since Oct. 4, a day after a

20-foot section of a 17-mile pipeline ruptured. The pipeline, 7 feet in diameter, extends from central Pasco County to Pinellas County's northern border.

The pipeline was designed to operate with 200 pounds per square inch of internal pressure, but it was running 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 water supply authority, which owns the line, plans to operate the fragile pipe at 60 to 65 pounds of pressure because it could rupture at about 80 pounds of pressure.

While the pipeline was under repair, water authorities had to pump more than usual from other well fields that supply Pinellas County. That meant those fields were pushed to their limits and will need time to recover.

By late Monday afternoon, Pinellas had received 40.51-million gallons of water through the pipeline and separately about 28-million gallons from its well fields.

Meanwhile, people should be frugal with water, said Andrea Spadafora of Swiftmud.

Said Spadafora: "The word for now and the future is conserve."

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