SWFWMD extends water restrictions for only one month though staff recommended longer

06/23/09 Seán Kinane
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Water-use restrictions will remain in place for at least another month. This morning in Brooksville, the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) voted unanimously to extend the water restrictions until the end of July. But they did that despite a SWFWMD staff recommendation to extend the restrictions until the end of September.

Despite May’s above-average rainfall, the region remains mired in a long-term drought. Rainfall this month has been well below average for what should have been the beginning of the summer rainy season.

Richard Owen is a SWFWMD deputy executive director for resource regulation. “We think with the information you just heard, the meat of our restrictions need to stay in effect for several more months. In fact, we’re recommending through the rainy season - through the end of September.”

But SWFWMD board member Hugh Gramling made motions to only extend the restrictions for one month. Gramling, from Plant City, is executive director of Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers.

“I’m not prepared at this point to go along with staff recommendation. And I would like to make a motion that we extend our current water restrictions – and will make the same motion for the next two [agenda items] – that we extend our water restrictions for another 30 days, reevaluate in July to make sure the rainy season has indeed started, and to look at subsequent reductions at that point. But I think it’s premature at this time [to extend restrictions through September].”

Like Gramling, board chair Todd Pressman, agrees with the month-by-month approach in case normal rainfall resumes before the end of September. “I’d rather do 30 days rather than have to potentially even consider doing a flip-flop on it.”

But how likely is it that normal rainfall will do away with the nearly four-year drought? Granville Kinsman, SWFWMD’s hydrologic data manager, says there is still a twenty-two-inch rainfall shortfall over the last three years, and there are shorter-term deficits as well.

Lakes are five feet below where they should be, groundwater levels are low, and river flows are below normal, according to Kinsman. He told the board that it would take a year of above-average rainfall – sixty inches – for the region to emerge from its drought.

Throughout the SWFWMD region, which encompasses all or parts of 16 counties from Levy to Charlotte, there are four different water restriction orders in effect. They all allow lawn sprinkling one day per week. SWFWMD deputy executive director Richard Owen.

By unanimous vote of the board, each of those orders was extended by one month on Tuesday, except for one. Based on staff recommendation, the district-wide modified Phase II restrictions were extended until September 30th. But two areas are under even more restrictive orders.

People in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties who get their water from Tampa Bay Water are under modified Phase IV orders. That allows once-a-week lawn watering for up to four hours and prohibits fountains, car washing and pressure washing - except by professionals, and requires water-cooled buildings to set their thermostats no cooler than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Staff recommended lifting all of those restrictions except for lawn watering and extending the order until September, but the board voted to keep the restrictions and only extend by one month. Sallie Parks is a SWFWMD board member from Palm Harbor.

Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties are under a modified Phase III order, as are areas in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco that don’t get their water from Tampa Bay Water. It allows once-a-week watering for up to 8 hours. That order was also extended by only one month against staff recommendation.

SWFWMD’s Richard Owen says the restrictions have led to a sharp reduction in water demand.

The next SWFWMD board meeting will be on July 28th in their Bartow office. They will determine whether to continue the water-use restrictions.

Southwest Florida Water Management District, SWFWMD

Previous WMNF coverage of water restrictions

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