June 24, 2008

Extension Of Watering Limits Likely

By Neil Johnson, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jun. 24--TAMPA -- After a rainy weekend that made searching the Internet for blueprints to build an ark seem like a sound idea, you might think conditions are sodden enough to lift some of the tightest lawn watering restrictions in the state.

Rainfall on Saturday set a record at Tampa International Airport. The Manatee River is flooding. The state's wildfire season is about doused.

That still isn't enough to let folks turn on their sprinklers twice a week, say experts at the water management district.

Lakes, rivers and the aquifer are far from recovered after two years of drought. Rainfall is still 17 inches below normal for the past 24 months.

That's why the staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District wants once-weekly lawn watering rules to remain in place for three more months.

The district's governing board will review the watering restrictions today in Brooksville with the recommendation from its staff to leave regulations as they are until Sept. 30.

The board does not have to follow the recommendation, but it has considered lifting the once-weekly rules three times since they were imposed Jan. 9, 2007, and each time followed the staff's recommendation not to relax them.

Rainfall the past two weeks might have eased the wildfire threat and turned roadside ditches into mosquito factories, but it hasn't erased effects of two dry years, said Granville Kinsman, manager of hydraulic data for the district.

"Rainfall this month has been hit and miss until this weekend," he said.

Although the winter and early spring produced average rainfall and surface and groundwater rebounded, things dried up in early April and stayed dry through May.

"Since the first of April it turned off. The improvements we were seeing turned around," Kinsman said.

Rain in West Central Florida in May ran from 10 percent to 25 percent below normal.

Things improved this month with rain ranging from 90 percent to twice the normal amount.

Effects of the early summer rainfall are mixed.

Rain this weekend sparked minor flooding of the Manatee River. The 3.08 inches of rain at Tampa airport on Sunday broke a record for June 21 of 2.76 inches set in 1928.

Also, a measurement of wildfire danger -- where 800 is a desert and 0 is saturated -- fell from 561 in Hillsborough County on June 10 to 257 as of Monday.

That means fewer and smaller fires across the state. From June 1 until June 10, there were 276 wildfires that burned 5,647 acres.

From June 11 through Sunday, there were 87 fires that covered 1,293 acres.

On the other hand, lakes in the Tampa Bay area still are 2 feet below the lowest point expected for June and more than 5 feet low in the Lake Wales ridge.

Lakes in Hernando and Citrus counties are 4 feet below normal.

Flow in the Peace River is about 20 cubic feet a second compared with a rate of about 200 cubic feet a second that's normal for this time of year.

The U.S. Drought Monitor from the Climate Prediction Center shows almost 92 percent of the state ranges from abnormally dry to being in a severe drought. Most of Hillsborough County is among the few areas of the state free of any drought condition.

With the rainy season started, the number of days people can water each week becomes less important.

"If we are getting summer rainfall, the restrictions shouldn't make a difference," Kinsman said.

Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at (813) 259-7731 or [email protected]


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