SWFWMD enacts slightly stricter water restrictions but still allows lawn watering

03/31/09 Seán Kinane
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In Brooksville this morning, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or SWFWMD, enacted slightly tougher water restrictions. But during this severe drought, these “modified Phase IV” restrictions don’t go as far as the recently agreed upon City of Tampa restrictions because they still allowing drinking water to be used to water lawns.

In February, Tampa Bay Water – the wholesale water distributor to utilities in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties – asked SWFWMD to consider Phase IV water restrictions. That request was denied by the governing board during their February meeting in favor of modified Phase III restrictions. But on Tuesday, the governing board unanimously accepted staff’s recommendations for the next level of restrictions. Richard Owen is a SWFWMD deputy executive director.

“We’re recommending that modified Phase IV restriction be imposed by the governing board in the Tampa Bay area, but focused on the most significant problem that we’re experiencing. Yes, there’s a drought. There is a drought throughout our water management district. But it’s impacting the sources for public water supply in this area. So that’s what we think we should focus on, those regional sources. So our recommendation is that the changes we are discussion be applied to Tampa Bay Water, and its six member governments, and the local governments that receive water from those local governments.”

The six member governments are Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties, and the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey. Residents of other cities within those three counties will continue under modified Phase III restrictions, unless they receive water from Tampa Bay Water. The restrictions will begin this Friday and continue until June 30th unless they are extended. Owen says the lawn and landscape watering restrictions for using automatic sprinklers with rotors and sprays are broken down depending on the size of the property.

“If under one acre, there would be a maximum of four hours allowed: midnight to 4 a.m. If you’re greater than one acre, you would have those same morning hours and then a four-hour time block in the evening. … Under the current restrictions, if you’re over two acres, you have up to 18 hours. Now you’ll have – if you’re over one acre – up to 8 hours.”

Watering will still only be allowed one day per week on the same schedule that is currently in place. An alternative to automatic watering, hand watering, will be allowed from 6 a.m. until 8 a.m. or from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. The more restrictive lawn watering requirements will not apply to people watering lawns from a private well: they remain under the modified Phase III restrictions.

Additional watering is allowed for new or replacement lawns, Owen says, based on provisions “worked out with the sod industry for the current restrictions.”

Four members of the public opposed the modified Phase IV restrictions because they don’t go far enough. After reading SWFWMD’s mission statement to the governing board, Steven Morris from Odessa, accused them of not living up to it.

“Staff has spent countless hours to figure out this scheme so that people can water their grass. Fifty percent of water goes to grass. So are we worried about the drought or are we worrying about watering grass? I’m missing the point here. I see it as a Ponzi scheme. I’m out in the Keystone area. I have people with lakes that are going down. I have wells that are going dry. But that’s OK, because you’re collateral damage because the people in a gated community need that green grass.”

But SWFWMD executive director Dave Moore defended the modified Phase IV restrictions, even though they still allow drinking water to be used on lawns.

“The action we’re taking here today, in terms of the water restrictions to lawn and landscaping are by far, by far, the most severe restrictions that’s ever been undertaken in the state Florida short of Tampa’s total ban on sprinkler systems here this past week. So I don’t think we’re taking this lightly at all as an agency.”

Tampa’s emergency watering restrictions will also take effect on Friday. They ban all irrigation except for hand watering. Everyone who receives water from the City of Tampa, even if outside the city limits, is subject to Tampa’s restrictions.

In addition to the watering restrictions for Tampa Bay Water customers, fountains will be prohibited, water-based air conditioning units must be set at or above 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and residential car washing and pressure washing will be prohibited. That restriction does not apply to commercial car washes or commercial pressure washing businesses, according to SWFWMD’s Owen, to reduce the economic impact of the restrictions.

“And our analysis saw the potential for job loss of [2,226] jobs in the Tampa Bay area and a loss of sales of $81 million.”

Four people, including two who own pressure washing companies spoke in favor of the new restrictions.

Even though the new restrictions still allow lawn watering and professional power washing, SWFWMD released a water shortage alert indicating that Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties are under a “critical” water shortage. According to SWFWMD, in those three counties “conditions of water resources or water supply require suspension of nonessential water uses.” Current river flows are near historic lows and the “serious” drought is continuing to get worse, according to Granville Kinsman, a hydrologic data manager with Swiftmud.

“All of our systems are continuing to decline. We are expecting conditions to worsen at least through late spring, perhaps into early summer. And our longer-range forecast is unclear. They’re expecting La Niña to dissipate sometime this summer, which would go back to more neutral conditions. And with that the signal becomes very, very unclear about where we might go.”

modified Phase IV water restrictions

previous WMNF coverage of SWFWMD February water restrictions

find the water restrictions for your local area

Richard Owen

Dave Moore

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