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Outdoor water ban may be on horizon

Local governments might have to start banning outdoor water use soon if the Tampa Bay area doesn't get more rainfall or have better success at conservation, the chairman of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority said Monday.

"If we don't see some changes in either rainfall or conservation in the next 30 days, we will probably be into some serious emergency measures," said Ed Turanchik, a Hillsborough County commissioner.

He specifically mentioned banning outdoor water use, or at least scaling it back from the current twice-a-week schedule.

Turanchik said further restrictions on watering lawns might become necessary soon.

Turanchik made his comments before and after a meeting of West Coast's board of directors Monday afternoon, as the agency discussed both long- and short-term plans for coping with the region's water needs.

West Coast is the water supplier for many of the local governments in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, but it could not impose such a ban itself. It could only recommend one to the individual cities and counties, or to the regional water agency known as Swiftmud.

Warren Hogg, West Coast's evaluations and permitting manager, said less than an inch of rain has fallen so far in March. Last year it rained 7 inches in March, and the normal level is 4 inches, he said.

In other business, West Coast's board voted to seek to renew a permit that would allow it to continue operating Pasco County's Cross Bar Ranch well field, a key source of water for Pinellas County.

But some board members wanted to scale back the use of the well field. An attorney for Pasco County said overpumping at Cross Bar had dried up several nearby lakes and ponds and caused severe damage to wetlands.

After a debate, the board voted to keep their permit request at the level of 30-million gallons per day from the well field, rather than reducing it. But they agreed to seek a permit that would last three years instead of five.