Drought leading to water violations in Bay Area

6:48 PM, Apr 17, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Our drier, hotter weather has put us in a drought.

That has fire departments on edge. It also has water managers keeping a close eye on our water supply, and officials say they are cracking down on an increasing number of water restriction violators.

One big reason is that our water reservoir levels are now about two feet below normal, according to Tampa Utilities Director Brad Baird.

That's not a dangerous level -- yet. But it is lower than they're expected to be even for this time of year.

And just when they need more people to be following conservation rules, Baird says they're seeing just the opposite. 10 News spotted the sprinklers running today at noon at a home in the 3000 block of Lawn Ave. in South Tampa.

The owner was not home, but Steve Bridwell, a local property manager, says he noticed the same thing at the same house this past Friday. In fact, one of the sprinkler heads had popped off, said Bridwell, so he popped it back on to stop it from gushing water.

It left Bridwell soaking wet, he said. "But, you know, good deed for the day."

"We are seeing more violations than we typically do at this time of year," said Baird.

Baird hopes rain in the forecast for the latter part of this week will put a dent in our drought and maybe add a few inches to the reservoirs. In the meantime, he says the prolonged dry spell has more people breaking the rules.

"The drier it gets, the more people water and the more violations we see," he said.

Alberto Alvarez, who does landscaping, drought or no drought, is afraid his business might dry up if watering has to be limited any further.

After all, who needs to mow dead grass?

"You see everything," Alvarez said pointing to a browning lawn. "It's no good."

Alvarez recommends keeping the grass cut high. Also, skip fertilizing for now, he says. Without water, it doesn't do much good anyway.

Utilities officials say they would not be surprised if water managers with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) raise the region to level 2 restrictions at their next meeting later this month.

In Tampa, that wouldn't change much since they already limit watering to twice a week, but in some areas it could reduce irrigation hours.

What officials would like to see is more rain and fewer violators.

Earlier this month, things were looking better, but in the past few weeks, water officials say there have been many more violations.

Previous years, however, have seen numbers as bad, if not worse.

Here are some figures provided by the City of Tampa for perspective:

Week ending April 14, 2012 - Citations Issued = 32
April Month to Date - Citations Issued = 55
Year to Date (FY starting in October) = 307
Week ending April 16, 2011 - Citations Issued = 33
April Month to Date - Citations Issued = 61
Year to Date (FY starting in October) = 341
Week ending April 17, 2010 - Citations Issued = 39
April Month to Date - Citations Issued = 112
Year to Date (FY starting in October) = 363

Also related to water consumption, the city of Tampa Utilities Department issued the following information earlier today:

"A limited number of rebates for conversion of conventional irrigation zones to micro-irrigation are available to qualified Tampa water utility customers. 

The Tampa Water Department is offering up to $250 for single-family residential account holders and up to $1,000 to
multi-family and commercial customers currently using city water for irrigation at locations where high-volume irrigation is converted to low-volume technology.

"We are happy to be able to offer these rebates to help our customers increase the efficiency of their irrigation systems. In Tampa, outdoor water use can account for as much as 50 percent of the total water use at homes and at many business locations," said Brad Baird, Water Department Director.

"Making even small changes to the ways we use water can have a positive impact for our customers, our community and our water resources."

Residential customers participating in the rebate program can receive 50 cents per square foot the conversion of up to 500 square feet of non-turf landscape to micro-irrigation. Multi-family and commercial locations are eligible to receive 50 cents per square foot for converting up to 2,000 square feet.

In addition to offering rebates for conversions to micro-irrigation, the Water Department also is offering commercial locations up to $1,000 per location to assist with the installation of soil moisture sensors or evapo-transpiration technology to increase the efficiency of large-scale irrigation system operation.

Rebates are available only for City of Tampa Water Department customers with operational in-ground irrigation systems using city-provided potable water.

Pre-registration, confirmation of program enrollment, and a site visit is required prior to beginning work on the irrigation system.

Requests for program participation are being accepted now through July 13, 2012, on a first-available basis as funding remains available.  Participation criteria, micro-irrigation rebate program guidelines and application information are available on-line at www.tampagov.net/savewater or by calling 813-274-8121.