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Water shortage prompts emergency measures
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PINELLAS COUNTY - Ongoing drought conditions have caused an acute water shortage within the region, according to a Feb. 16 press release from Southwest Florida Management District.

Swiftmud Executive Director David Moore signed two water shortage emergency orders last week. One will allow Tampa Bay Water to withdraw additional water from the Tampa Bypass Canal to help meet the potable water demand of its member governments. The second applies to the city of Tampa.

Tampa Bay Water is the region's wholesale water supplier and provides water to Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, as well as the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Tampa Bay Water typically stores water from the Alafia River and Hillsborough River in its C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir during the wet season to withdraw during the dry season, according to the press release. When full, Tampa Bay Water’s reservoir stores up to 15 billion gallons of water.

As of Feb. 12, the reservoir had less than one billion gallons in storage.  At the current rate of withdrawal, Tampa Bay Water expects to deplete that storage by the end of March.

Officials said the emergency measures coupled with aggressive water conservation by area residents can help reduce the rate of withdrawal as well as keep withdrawals from Tampa Bay Water’s major well fields below or near its permitted quantity of 90 million gallons per day.

The emergency order allows Tampa Bay Water to temporarily withdraw up to 10 million gallons per day from the Tampa Bypass Canal’s lower pool as a means of increasing production from its surface water treatment plant, the press release said.

This additional withdrawal can take place as long as water levels in the lower pool of the canal remain at or above 7.5 feet, the level needed to ensure proper functioning of the canal's flood control structures.

The emergency orders are in effect until June 30, 2009.  

On Feb. 5, Swiftmud announced that the Tampa Bay Region, which includes Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, continued on an extreme (red) water shortage alert.

On a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 representing the lowest and 100 the highest, current river flows are hovering around the third percentile, the press release said.

Aquifer levels have dropped below normal, and lakes are averaging more than a foot and a half below the lowest normal readings.

Tampa Bay remains under the District’s Modified Phase III (or Extreme) Water Shortage restrictions approved by the District’s Governing Board in October. In addition to continuing to restrict lawn watering to one-day-per-week, the Phase III order calls for local governments to strictly enforce the rules. Additional restrictions include:

- Restricting the new construction and turfgrass replacement establishment period to 30 days total. On days one to15, beginning the day of installation, the new or replacement turfgrass may be watered every day of the week. On days 16 to 30, the new or replacement turfgrass may be watered approximately every other day.

- Reducing the 60-day allowance for new plant establishment (other than sod and other forms of new turfgrass). During days 31 to 60, plants and shrubs may be watered approximately every other day.

- Restricting the time for hand-watering or micro-irrigation for non-lawn landscaping to before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

- Reducing the time aesthetic fountains and waterfalls may operate from eight hours to four hours per day.

- Limiting the use of unattended line flushing by water utilities.

- Requiring water utilities and other local enforcement officials to increase their enforcement efforts, including requirements to respond to citizen complaints and issue citations without having first issued a warning.

During the cooler winter months, the District is also urging residents to consider skipping a week of lawn irrigation, especially if it has just rained. Lawns go dormant during the winter months and don’t need as much water. With outdoor irrigation accounting for as much as 50 percent of residential water usage, skipping a week of water can result in a significant water savings.

In addition to declaring the Modified Phase III Water Shortage, the District has taken a series of emergency measures including:

- Allowing Tampa Bay Water to increase withdrawals from the Tampa Bypass Canal to help meet the city of Tampa’s potable water demand.

- Allowing increased withdrawals from the Alafia River when sufficient flows are available.

- Testing the possibility of using the Morris Bridge Sinkhole as a potential temporary water supply.
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