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Water rules confound experts

Even officials responsible for getting the message out and enforcing the limits don't all know what's what.

And you thought you were confused by the ever-shifting restrictions on the outdoor use of water.

It turns out even the public officials responsible for getting the message to you and enforcing the limits don't all know which end is up.

For instance, is it okay for homeowners to water in the morning and the evening on their one legal watering day a week?

Nope.

The emergency order invoked late last month by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, states there are morning hours and evening hours for watering, and you may water a specific area in the morning or the evening, but only once on your specified day.

India Williams, consumer affairs manager for the Tampa Water Department, counted herself among the confused Thursday.

"Somehow, the "or' didn't stick in my brain," Williams said. "We encourage people to water each zone of their lawn once and only once on their designated day during the designated hours. The next time we address watering restrictions, we should clarify the requirements."

The same confusion exists in unincorporated Hillsborough County, and in St. Petersburg, where city officials sent information in water bills indicating residents could water morning and evening.

"There is definitely that little word "or' in the Swiftmud order," said Patty Anderson of the St. Petersburg Utilities Department. "We're trying to write some sort of statement clearing it up for everyone."

Public officials weren't the only ones confused. In reporting on Swiftmud's order, the St. Petersburg Times said watering was legal morning and evening.

Doug Bramlett, utilities director for Pasco County, said county lawyers looked at the Swiftmud order, and it was clear to them:

"When we wrote our own order, we said "and,' but it was clear Swiftmud was saying "or,' and that's what we're enforcing."

Adding to the confusion is the interpretation for people with automatic sprinkler systems that work on multiple zones. If these users cannot complete all zones within the morning window, the watering may be completed in the evening, but not repeated.

Norman Davis, Hillsborough County's water conservation manager, says he understands the Swiftmud order but finds it hard to enforce.

"To write a citation, we have to witness a violation," Davis said. "That means we would have to see a piece of property being watered in the morning and then recognize it when it is watered again in the evening. Very tough."

In Hernando County, code enforcement director Frank McDowell says he doesn't have the personnel to make sure people don't cheat and water twice on their designated day.

"What we're telling people is that Swiftmud says they can put three-fourths of an inch of water on their lawns once a week," McDowell said. "We suggest they put an empty tuna fish can in the yard, and when it gets to three-fourths of an inch, they're done. But if they want to put down a half inch in the morning and a quarter inch at night, I think they would be legal."

The latest round of restrictions is temporary and will expire June 30, after which everyone will have to figure things out all over again.

When can you water?

The drought has forced local governments to pass new water restrictions, but the rules are different in the city of Tampa and unincorporated Hillsborough County. The rules apply to everyone, whether your water comes from a government utility, wells or a private company. Here are the rules:

IF YOU LIVE IN TAMPA:

1. You can water one day a week. Even-numbered addresses water on Tuesday, odd-numbered addresses on Sunday.

2. On your day, you can water either before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. _ but not both times.

3. You can water your shrubs, trees and plants any day with a watering can.

4. You can't wash cars, trailers and boats anywhere _ except at a car wash.

5. You can water new landscaping only once a week on your watering day.

6. You can't run fountains or waterfalls. No pressure washing either, except by qualified pressure-washing companies.

7. You can't fill above-ground swimming pools that don't have filtration systems.

8. Call (813) 274-8036 to report violations. Call (813) 274-8032 for more information.

IF YOU LIVE IN UNINCORPORATED HILLSBOROUGH

1. You can water one day a week between Monday and Friday, depending on the last digit of your address. Addresses ending in:

0 or 1 water on Monday

2 or 3 water on Tuesday

4 or 5 water on Wednesday

6 or 7 water on Thursday

8 or 9, and no number water on Friday

2. On your day, you can water either before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. _ but not both times.

3. You can water your shrubs, trees and plants on any day with a watering can and a hose.

4. You can wash cars, trailers and boats at home.

5. You can water new landscaping any day before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. for 60 days after installation.

6. You can run fountain and waterfalls. Pressure washing is OK.

7. You can fill any swimming pool.

8. Call (813) 224-8993 to report a violation. Call (813) 275-7094 for more information.

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