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Restrictions on watering will remain

The city's outdoor water use restrictions are permanent, the City Council decided Thursday.

If that sounds about as climactic as declaring that driving on the right side of the street is legal, at least consider that the years of water restrictions within the city have all been the result of emergency declarations.

From now on, the way water is used outdoors becomes a permanent part of the city's laws.

Still, after five years of varying sets of water-use rules prompted by low rainfall, that is a pretty fine point to make.

Improbably, Thursday's unanimous vote came after one of the rainiest summer and fall seasons in years.

But it was only as recently as May that the driest conditions in 100 years _ since weather records have been kept for the region _ had left Tampa Bay's water utilities almost desperate to meet public demand.

It was in May, in fact, that St. Petersburg and the region's largest local governments declared the tightest water-use cuts yet.

And those are the rules that became permanent Thursday, with a modest change.

Henceforth, yard watering will be limited to two days a week, from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The change: Watering with a garden hose equipped with a nozzle that automatically shuts off when not in use had been restricted to the morning and evening hours, but not anymore. The so-called hand-watering with automatic shut-offs can now be used anytime, except on established lawns.

In other words, it's okay to water potted plants, gardens, new lawns and the like with the special nozzles at any time, just avoid being wasteful about it. But using a hose to water turf areas still is restricted.

St. Petersburg's permanent adoption of the restrictions follows the lead of Pinellas and Pasco counties, which both approved the same rules in May, back when the water shortage was at its worst.

Hillsborough County was scheduled to adopt the same rules Wednesday, but commissioners decided against taking any final action for at least a couple of months to see if competing requests for changes in the hours could be ironed out.

It was the region's water regulator, in fact, that has asked local governments to consider slightly more liberal watering restrictions than the ones proposed.

Officials for the Southwest Florida Water Management District have said they wanted the longer watering times so that neighboring governments will be more consistent and less confusing to residents.

But when Swiftmud made that request of St. Petersburg on Thursday, council members found it baffling. What they were approving was the same set of rules already adopted by Pinellas and Pasco counties. Hillsborough still had them on the table.

"Stop blaming the public," Council member Connie Kone admonished a Swiftmud official. "I think our citizens have understood this. They're cooperating beautifully. They're conserving."

Indeed, recent city statistics show that the restrictions imposed in May _ and copious amounts of rain since then _ have allowed the city to reduce water demand by about 10 percent.

St. Petersburg's new water restrictions

Lawn and landscaping Even addresses _ Tues., Sat. only

irrigation Odd addresses _ Wed., Sun. only

5-9 a.m. and 7-11 p.m.

Car washing No restriction by day or time. Must

use automatic shutoff device.

Boat flushing 10-minute flush per day.

Hand-watering Can't waste water, but can water

when you want. Mature lawns can't

be watered during restricted hours.

Must use automatic shutoff device.

Private wells Same restrictions as public supply.

Car wash fund-raiser No restrictions, but discouraged.

New plantings No daily restrictions, except not

between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.