Swiftmud increases water use restrictions

02/24/09 Seán Kinane
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This afternoon in Brooksville the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) increased some restrictions on water use in the Tampa Bay region. But even tougher watering restrictions were rejected because of concerns about how they would affect jobs.

Richard Owen, deputy executive director of Swiftmud, recommended that the water management district add some features to the current Phase III water use restrictions – which were put in place four months ago -- rather than adopt the stricter Phase IV constraints.

“We think that there may still be opportunities for the member governments to do more in terms of managing their systems on a more precise basis and reduce use through those techniques.”

The drought surcharge Owen suggested would be an extra fee imposed for water use above a certain level, so that only people who waste the most water would be affected. Swiftmud also recommended imposing a fee on people who have access to a reclaimed water system but choose not to hook up to it. These are part of the enhanced Phase III water use restrictions approved Tuesday. But that was only after Owen recommended against these even more restrictive Phase IV limitations:

“We would be looking at banning residential carwashes, prohibiting all fundraising carwashes.”

Those restrictions were being considered because of a request earlier this month by Tampa Bay Water, the wholesale water distributor to water utilities in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. But those tough restrictions were rejected, Owen says, because they might affect jobs. Three farmers who grow water-intensive St. Augustine sod spoke in opposition to those Phase IV restrictions, including Frank Belog.

“It’s a big concern of mine. This last time we did this modification it put us out of business for two months.”

One member of the public spoke in favor of the more severe Phase IV restrictions, saying it would be a good message for Swiftmud to send to a public that needs to understand how serious the water problem is.

Charles Lee, who represents Audubon of Florida, says that water conservation is an issue that should not only be addressed during a drought. Lee recommends two policies that should be implemented to save water even when there’s not a drought.

“We need to move in the direction of mandatory conservation through the requirement of conservation devices. … One, mandatory conversion to water conservation toilets. … And secondly, the requirement that every irrigation system be controlled by a soil moisture sensor.”

The only Swiftmud board member to vote against adding some restrictions to the existing Phase III water use limits prefers the more severe Phase IV restrictions. Board vice chair Todd Pressman is a land-use lobbyist from Clearwater.

“I would suggest that rather than doing a modified Phase III, we do a modified Phase IV.”

Some board members warned that the restrictions could get even more severe in the near future, because below-average rainfall amounts are expected to continue through June.

Granville Kinsman, a hydrologic data manager with Swiftmud, warns that the current rainfall deficit began in June 2005 and is more than 27 inches.

Fish are even being removed from the reservoir in order to prevent contamination of the drinking water by fish die-off as the water is depleted. But too much water consumption is as much to blame as a lack of rainfall.

Tampa Bay Water is permitted to withdraw up to 90 million gallons per day from groundwater wells, but will exceed that unless conservation measures improve, Owen says.

So far, the Phase III water restrictions have only generated a 2 percent reduction in water use, instead of the 10 percent reduction goal, according to Swiftmud.


Todd Pressman

Tampa Bay Water

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