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Lack of rain triggers water restrictions
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Adding an automatic shutoff nozzle to the end of a hose is a good water conservation measure, county officials say.
PINELLAS COUNTY – Area water supplies are OK for now, but officials at Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) are concerned about the future.

Florida ranked third driest in the nation for 2006, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Jan. 11 showed that Pinellas County, as well as many other counties, is currently experiencing moderate drought conditions.

Swiftmud declared a severe water shortage on Jan. 9 and imposed lawn and other mandatory water-use restrictions for the 16 counties in its territory as a precautionary measure to ensure continued adequate water supplies.

“It is disturbing to see such low water levels this early in the dry season,” Swiftmud Executive Director David Moore said in a press release. “We need to act now to be prepared for the spring when water levels are at their lowest prior to the rainy season.”

This is the first time since the 2000 drought that Swiftmud has imposed mandatory watering restrictions, according to Rebecca Courier, communications coordinator at Swiftmud’s Brooksville office. She said the lack of rainfall this past season was putting a strain on the state’s aquifers, which are underground layers of rock and sand that hold water.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, 2000 was Florida’s driest year on record and the worst since the 1930s.

Swiftmud’s Jan. 12 Aquifer Resource Update showed the aquifer level in its central region, which includes Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties, at 3.03 feet. On the same date last year, the level was 5.74 feet.

Historically, the average yearly rainfall for the central region is 52.66 inches. During 2006, the central region received 43.13 inches of rain, making it the second driest year since 2000 when only 32.60 inches of rain was recorded.

Thus far in 2007, the region has received .71 of an inch of rain. Historically, 2.47 inches of rain is received in January.

David Baker, manager of conservation resources for Pinellas County Utilities, said the new restrictions were a precautionary measure.

“We have adequate supplies of water right now,” Baker said. “Swiftmud is trying to avoid future problems. But that doesn’t mean people should use water with reckless abandon.”

Baker said the new watering restrictions, which went into effect on Jan. 16, would mostly affect people who irrigate with well, lake or pond water and are currently allowed to water two days a week. The new restrictions cut back all lawn and landscape irrigation to one day a week.

The watering day for people using potable water remains the same. Users who had been allowed two days a week will use the following schedule for their single watering day.

Addresses (house numbers) ending in the following numbers may only irrigate on:

Ending in 0 or 1 – Monday
Ending in 2 or 3 – Tuesday
Ending in 4 or 5 – Wednesday
Ending in 6 or 7 – Thursday
Ending in 8 or 9 – Friday

Watering is allowed from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Watering is prohibited between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Other water restrictions include limiting car washing to one day a week; however, fundraiser events are still allowed. Fountains and other aesthetic-only water features may only operate eight hours a day.

Courier said if the level of the aquifers begins to rise because of increased rainfall then the restrictions could be rescinded. However, if the rains do not come, the restrictions could be extended past July 31, when the new restrictions are currently scheduled to end.

Baker said Pinellas County was required to follow the water conservations mandates put forth by Swiftmud. He said local government could do no less; however, it could be more restrictive if it were deemed necessary.

Pam Frazier, a Pinellas County Utilities spokeswoman, said Utilities is currently working with the Pinellas County Attorney’s Office to possibly put into place other mandatory water conservation methods. She said on Friday that plans had not yet been finalized.

Pinellas County’s current conservation programs are very effective, Baker said. Per capita water usage in the county, for fiscal year 2005-06, reached a new low of 89 gallons a person a day – down from a high of 153 gallons a person a day in 1989-90.

Pick Talley, Utilities director, said water usage per person has declined more than 40 percent over the past decade and a half.

“We’ll continue to be aggressive with our conservation,” Baker said. “Our programs are working.”
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