Water officials signal potential restrictions for Tampa Bay amid drought conditions

The last time the region fell under such a declaration was 2017.
Sprinklers run as the sun rises on a strawberry field in Plant City in 2018.
Sprinklers run as the sun rises on a strawberry field in Plant City in 2018. [ TAMPA BAY TIMES ARCHIVE | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 28, 2020|Updated April 29, 2020

Following an unusually dry start to 2020 around Tampa Bay, the local water management district’s governing board on Tuesday declared a water shortage, signaling that residents could face tighter water-use restrictions this year.

The vote for a so-called phase one shortage does not change schedules but prohibits “wasteful and unnecessary” water use. That might include hosing down driveways or letting water run without watching it, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Much of the region is experiencing drought conditions, the district said, but the public water supply is still considered adequate.

Officials, though, intended Tuesday “to alert the public that watering restrictions could be forthcoming.” Such measures in the past have included local governments limiting how often residents can water their lawns to once a week, or restricting car-washing at home and the use of pressure washers. The order applies to Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties.

The last time Tampa Bay fell under such a declaration was 2017. The order says the provisions take effect May 12 and continue until July 1, barring another vote or further action.

As of its latest update, the United States Drought Monitor considered areas surrounding Tampa Bay to be experiencing either moderate or severe drought conditions.

Tony Hurt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said the region has seen just shy of 7 inches of rain to date this year, with more than 4 inches coming in April alone.

“We’re getting closer to normal,” Hurt said.

Still, he said, the yearly total is about three inches below what’s typical. Last year at this time, he said, forecasters had tracked more than 11 inches of rainfall.

Florida’s wet season usually begins as early as May.