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State agency proposing uniform water limitations

The Florida Department of Environmental Regulation is proposing uniform statewide water restrictions to end a hodgepodge of lawn-watering and car-washing rules across the state.

Recent drought, a fast-growing population and a limited supply of freshwater have increased the pressure for statewide conservation.

The department disclosed last week that it wants to set a daily limit on the water consumed by each Floridian, though experts questioned the ability to calculate and enforce such allocations.

State water district officials will discuss the DER proposals this week. The proposals will be announced formally by midsummer and presented at public workshops.

"We're getting to the point where the rubber really meets the road," Barton Bibler, DER's water-management administrator, told the Orlando Sentinel. "Our target date is for the end of the year."

If statewide restrictions were implemented, water districts probably would allocate usage for public or private utilities based on the population they serve. It would then be up to the utilities to encourage customers to conserve.

"With 80 percent of our population along the coast, and only 20 percent of the (water) supply along the coast, the most effective way of finding a new source, if you will, is conservation," said B.

J. Jarvis, water-shortage coordinator for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Florida never has had specific statewide limits on an individual's water use.

"It's extremely attractive to think we can manage water like a checkbook," said Robert Christianson, DER assistant director of district planning. "I don't think at this point we can measure that accurately."

Other state agencies and the governor's office are working on a range of related proposals, from mandating water-efficient appliances in new homes and businesses to requiring that less-thirsty plants be used for landscaping.

Two of the state's five water-management regions already have a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ban on lawn sprinklers and irrigation systems.

One of the two, the St. Johns River Water Management District, has also imposed a temporary 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ban in parts of Orange, Lake and Seminole counties to offset a recent drop in the Wekiva River. The extended ban took effect Saturday.

DER and water district officials say a statewide ban on daytime use of sprinklers would be a relatively painless way to educate Floridians about the fragile nature of a freshwater supply threatened by growth, saltwater contamination and pollution.

Even water management districts in the Panhandle, where shortages aren't much of a concern, may not oppose statewide restrictions.

"We don't have the problems of other districts, but it's common sense that we need to conserve," said Jerry Scarborough, director of the Suwannee River Water Management District.