The C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir is offline for renovations. The reservoir can hold 15.5 billion gallons and supplies the region with water during dry times.
Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Water
Tampa Bay Water’s Seawater Desalination Plant is an alternative water solution that provides up to 25 million gallons per day of drinking water.
CLEARWATER - Tampa Bay Water officials are asking the public to reduce water use as much as possible.
The agency, which provides wholesale drinking water to Tampa, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, as well as Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, announced April 17 that it is in a Phase 4 water status, under the agencies modified Water Shortage Mitigation Plan.
Alison Adams, spokesperson for TBW, said the Phase 4 designation is part of a system to monitor of supply and demand.
“It has to do with supply availability, water supply readiness,” she explained “With the reservoir out of service, and as dry as it is now, we have no surface water, which is why we have a level 4 water supply shortage.”
Phase 4 is the highest alert, signifying a critical shortage due to the lack of surface water.
Water levels in the Alafia River and Tampa Bypass Canal remain well below permit threshold limits, meaning there is no river water available for the regional surface water system. Officials estimate that system will be offline until the rainy season begins, typically in June.
Drinking water supplies are currently sufficient to meet the needs of customers. However, everyone, who receives drinking water from TBW, needs to conserve as much as possible.
TBW wants the public to be aware and to curtail unnecessary use of water, especially outdoors, Adams said.
“If it’s raining outside, for heaven’s sake, go out and turn off your system (sprinklers),” she said.
She advised residents to make sure sprinklers are watering lawns and landscapes, not sidewalks or streets.
“We want people to have a high degree of awareness that Florida’s spring is different than other eastern states,” she said. “This is not the time to plant or to get a lot of new stuff, which needs water.”
Adams encourages residents to follow the modified Phase III water restrictions issued in February by Southwest Florida Water Management District. These restrictions limit lawn and landscape watering to one day a week, according to street address. No watering is allowed between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
TBW is not responsible for setting restrictions or enforcement activities, Adams said. Southwest Florida Water Management District sets the level of restrictions based on regional needs. Local government is responsible for enforcement per Swiftmud requirements.
Adams reminded residents that watering violations would result in fines. Pinellas County Utilities Customers are fined $193, even for first-time violations, per Swiftmud rules.
In addition, under current water restrictions, fountains can operate only four hours a day. Vehicle washing is limited to once a week on the designated watering day. Restaurants can only serve water upon request.
October to March was the 11th driest in the past 119 years for the state’s Division 4, which includes Pinellas County and Tampa Bay, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The six-month period was the driest October through March since 2009 with the division receiving, on average, rainfall of less than 9.5 inches.
According to the drought severity index issued April 13 by the Climate Prediction Center, much of the state, including Tampa Bay, is experiencing severe drought conditions. Long-time indicators don’t show relief coming anytime soon.
Meanwhile, TBW will continue to use its Seawater Desalination Plant that is producing 20 million gallons of drinking water daily. Adams said the agency also had stepped up pumping from groundwater supplies, but remained within regulated levels. The reservoir is currently undergoing renovations and is offline.
Regional water supply demands averaged about 230 million gallons per day in March, with 87.4 percent coming from groundwater and 12 percent from the desalination plant. On average, TBW pumps 86 million gallons of water per day from its consolidated wellfield. Its permit allows 90 mgd.
Water Conservation Month
TBW officials also remind the public that April is Water Conservation Month, which coincides with what is typically one of the driest months of the year.
On top of observing watering restrictions, the public is urged to add other water conservation practices, such as using a hose nozzle to prevent water waste and skipping watering days during or after a rain.
TBW has a new online tool to help the residents stay aware of their designated watering day. Visit www.tampabaywater.org/watersmarter and enter a zip code to be directed to the rules for a specific area. The site also has do-it-yourself tips to help lower water use.
“Water use in our area spikes during the spring dry season,” said David Bracciano, demand management coordinator for Tampa Bay Water. “In fact, up to 50 percent of all water used ends up on lawns.”
According to Pinellas County Utilities, most of the year, Florida lawns need only about one inch of water per week. Overwatering can damage a lawn by promoting shallow root systems and an increase in dollarweed, chinch bugs or excessive thatch.
Pinellas County Extension advocates irrigating lawns as needed instead of on a schedule. A lawn needs water when the leaf blades start to fold in half lengthwise, when the grass begins to look bluish or when footprints remain visible long after they were made. When about 50 percent of the lawn shows signing of needing water is the time to irrigate, unless rain if forecast within the next 24 hours.
In addition, Floridians are encouraged to use plants that don’t require as much water. Extension offers a number of programs on Florida-friendly landscaping. For more information, visit pinellas.ifas.ufl.edu/FFL/index.shtml.