Watering rules now vary across Tampa Bay area
July 2, 2010
Many municipalities and public utilities in the Tampa Bay area are allowing twice-a-week lawn watering, now that the Southwest Florida Water Management District has given them the go-ahead.
Pinellas County Utilities is not one of them.
That means most residents in Hillsborough County can now irrigate twice a week, but much of the population across the bay in Pinellas County is still limited to once a week.
The reason why has to do with the bureaucratic way in which watering restrictions are handled.
In Pinellas County, for example, the board of county commissioners passed an ordinance in 2003 restricting lawn-watering with potable water to once a week. Some of the other government entities did not pass such measures, instead just mirroring water management district rules.
So, after the management district on Tuesday eased restrictions from once- to twice-a-week lawn-watering, the other water departments simply alerted users they could double the number of times a week they turned the sprinklers on. They typically informed them on their web sites, or on their automated telephone information lines.
These include the Tampa Water Department, the Hillsborough County's Water Resource Services division, and St. Petersburg's water department. Plant City and Temple Terrace are also returning to twice-a-week lawn watering.
In large swaths of Pinellas County, however, because of the ordinance, water users have to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, according to Terrie Grace, who's in charge of the water restrictions enforcement division within Pinellas County Utilities.
"To change county code would require a public hearing and a meeting with commissioners,'' said Grace. "We are taking measures to present this idea to the board of county commissioners."
Until the county commission adopts a new ordinance, the once-a-week rule remains in effect, Grace said. Pinellas County Utilities provides water for unincorporated Pinellas, along with more than a dozen cities in Pinellas, including Seminole, Largo, Kenneth City, and many of the beach municipalities.
While Pinellas County Utilities customers have to wait and see what the commission decides, those who water their lawns from lakes, wells and ponds do not, Grace said. They can resume a twice-a-week schedule immediately. There is no mention of lakes, wells and ponds in the ordinance, she said.
Tampa, too, had once enacted an ordinance, in 2006, restricting lawn-watering to once a week, said Elias Franco, the distribution division manager for the Tampa Water Department.
At the time, the ordinance was stricter than anything the water management district had in place, Franco said. But when the district tightened up its rules last year, the water department went before the city council and asked that the 2006 ordinance be retired.
Because it was, the Tampa Water Department was poised to inform its customers they could return to twice-a-week lawn-watering as soon as the water management district made its decision, Franco said.
Robyn O. Felix, a spokeswoman for the water management district, said Pinellas County Utilities isn't the only entity staying with the once-a-week schedule, at least for now. Pasco County Utilities is, as well.
Felix said unincorporated Sarasota County is sticking with the once-a-week restriction, and Hernando County is expected to enact a once-a-week ordinance later this month.
The water management agency was able to ease the restriction in large part because the area has received normal or above-normal amounts of rain, thanks largely to El Nino, and the reservoirs are full. Its once-a-week restriction had been in effect since 2007.
Still, while more lawn watering is allowed, officials with the water management district are asking users to be efficient and water only when necessary.
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