Pinellas, Hillsborough could see tighter watering restrictions

Published Feb. 19, 2013

CLEARWATER — Below-normal rainfall over the winter and the need to drain its reservoir for repairs led Tampa Bay Water officials Monday to urge tighter restrictions on lawn watering throughout the region for the foreseeable future.

That would mean switching to watering one day a week in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Pasco has kept the one-day-a-week restrictions in place since the last drought.

The restrictions, which would have to be enacted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, would limit residents to watering lawns only once a week between midnight and 4 a.m. The restrictions also impose limits on everything from car washing to ornamental fountain use.

Tampa Bay Water, the wholesale utility that supplies drinking water for the three-county region, normally can draw supplies from local rivers, run it through it a surface water treatment plant and store it in its 15 billion gallon reservoir.

But January and February have been drier than normal, and the usual spring dry season is just around the corner, said Alison Adams, the utility's senior manager.

The lack of rainfall means the rivers have fallen to or below the point at which the utility can draw water out, Adams said.

"The surface water treatment plant was taken offline because we don't have enough river flow," she said.

Meanwhile the utility's contractor finished draining the reservoir in December to begin repairing the structural problems causing cracks in the walls, a process scheduled to take until 2014.

To keep up with demand, pumping from the well fields is up but so far it has yet to hit the maximum amount allowed by Swiftmud, Adams said. Meanwhile, the utility's desalination plant is now running at its "sustainable maximum" of 20 million gallons of water a day, she told the board. Water from the desal plant is the most expensive of the options.

"If we get rainfall and if people cut back, we're home free," said Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber.

Swiftmud is scheduled to consider tighter watering restrictions at its meeting Feb. 26 in Sarasota. It last imposed once-a-week restrictions last spring, but lifted them in the summer during the rainy season.

Craig Pittman can be reached at