Let once-a-week watering stand
June 19, 2009
More than two years ago, the Southwest Florida Water Management District imposed one-day-a-week watering restrictions on residents.
Even so, the prolonged drought forced the regional water regulator to adopt other unprecedented restrictions, including a ban on residential car washing, earlier this year.
District board members need to keep this in mind when they meet Tuesday in Brooksville to discuss current regulations. The orders limiting lawn watering to once a week and banning such outdoor use as washing cars and operating fountains are set to expire at the end of the month.
Board members are to decide whether to keep current restrictions in place, modify them or eliminate them.
They need to be conservative and not do anything that would further stress the region's water supply.
Residents should be allowed to wash their cars or pressure-wash the house when possible. But the one-day limit should be kept in place.
The restriction saved millions of gallons of water and enabled the region to meet residents' drinking water needs during the height of a severe drought, when the region also lost the use of one of its key water sources - the regional reservoir. It had to be emptied to repair cracks that formed on its sides.
Sure, much of the countryside has received good soakings in recent weeks. The aquifer in the Tampa Bay area has finally returned to normal ranges, and area rivers and lakes are on the mend.
And a little more than 2 billion gallons of water have been dumped into the reservoir. But the facility holds 15 billion gallons, so it still has a long way to go.
The drought, which is more than three years old, isn't over, and, according to the water management district, the rainy season hasn't begun yet.
Some areas went days without rain week before last. Others didn't receive any last week.
The state climatologist also has noted that Florida's annual rainfall is unpredictable and that dry periods are common, as Tampa Bay residents well know.
Tampa Bay Water, which provides drinking water to governments serving more than 2 million people in the region, has a prudent suggestion: Wait until the reservoir has more water before modifying the current Phase IV restrictions.
The utility says water in the reservoir should be allowed to reach 100 feet, or 4.9 billion gallons, before any changes are made. Considering how quickly 2.1 billion gallons poured in as of June 12, it shouldn't take that long.
Once that level is reached, it would be fair to allow residents to once again wash their vehicles, pressure-wash homes and perhaps even turn on the fountains. But there is no reason to allow additional yard watering during the summer, when rainfall provides all the irrigation yards need.
Board members also should keep in mind that the reservoir repairs are only temporary. Once contractors are selected, the facility will be emptied and undergo work for an estimated two years. That will force Tampa Bay Water to rely on groundwater pumping, which can damage the environment. Strict conservation is going to be critical.
So even with the much-needed rain and improving hydrologic conditions, the board should see the situation remains serious.
The district must guard against any action that would signal to the public that the region's water problems are solved.
It should go slow on turning off the restriction and turning on the spigots. And it should not budge on the one-day-a-week watering rule, which has proved invaluable in helping our region endure chronic water shortages.
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