The region's once-a-week watering restrictions are no more, as of Thursday.
The restrictions, a legacy of the Tampa Bay region's long water shortage, expire today. Because the winter brought above-average rainfall, the Southwest Florida Water Management District board voted Tuesday not to renew the watering limits.
Residents can now water their lawns twice a week.
Ronald Oakley, the board's chairman, commended the region's residents for abiding by the restrictions for so long. However, he added, "we want to remind them that just because they may be able to water two days per week, doesn't mean they need to. We can't afford to be wasteful."
While the Swiftmud region includes Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the new twice-a-week rules don't apply everywhere. Unincorporated Pasco County, for instance, is expected to remain on one-day-per-week restrictions.
The board first declared a water shortage in January 2007. At one point in spring 2009, the shortage had reached such a critical stage that the board imposed the toughest restrictions in its history.
At that point the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers, which help provide water for the region, had dropped to just 2 percent of their normal flow, and the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, which can hold 15 billion gallons, had been drained dry. Tampa Bay Water was pumping more water out of the ground than it was supposed to, and wound up incurring a $48,000 fine.
So the board commonly known as Swiftmud cut the once-a-day lawn watering to certain hours. It banned residential car and pressure-washing. Ornamental fountains had to be switched off. Local governments stepped up enforcement, passing out hundreds of citations.
Since then, though, the board has eased back on the restrictions. Local aquifer and river levels have bounced back and the reservoir is again filled.