No rain: Tampa Bay area in serious precipitation deficit : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

From the February 9, 2001 print edition

Drought, not growth, blamed for water shortages

No rain: Tampa Bay area in serious precipitation deficit

Carl Cronan Staff Writer While government leaders might seek to blame someone for excessive use of public water supplies, water managers maintain the real culprit for the Tampa Bay area's H2O shortage is simply the absence of rain.

"This is not a growth management problem," said Jerry Maxwell, general manager of Tampa Bay Water, which wholesales supplies to users in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

The Bay area is suffering its worst drought in nearly 100 years of record keeping. Only 35.8 inches of rainfall was recorded in the area for all of 2000, bumping the long-standing 1927 record of 39.7 inches into second place.

Tampa Bay Water and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (also known as Swiftmud) are working against time -- and a lack of precipitation -- to prevent demand from exceeding availability of potable water.

Commercial development and other activity where water is a key ingredient has continued unabated since the Swiftmud governing board extended emergency watering restrictions last June.

But Maxwell said economic growth has not reached the expected 2.5 percent clip factored into water consumption limits. Furthermore, he said residents have responded favorably to pleas for conservation.

"Those two things together aren't enough to save us," Maxwell told state legislators during a special meeting Feb. 2 in Tampa.

"It's the drought."

Although meteorologists predict a normal rainy season starting later this spring, water officials said they expect to exceed the 158-million-gallon daily use limit by March 1. That limit was imposed on governments and utilities based on anticipated demand for water, coupled with expected replenishment of ground water supplies.

The problem is the drought has gone on far longer than anyone predicted.

Swiftmud estimates that the region's aquifers are between three and seven feet below their lowest range of normal levels as of Jan. 31. The low point needs to be reached before emergency restrictions on water use can be lifted.

A proposal before the Hillsborough County Commission for a rezoning moratorium in northwest Hillsborough, where water demands are the highest in the area, was rescinded after developers convinced commissioners such a move would stunt economic growth for years to come.

E.D. "Sonny" Vergara, Swiftmud's executive director, told lawmakers it is up to governments to enforce consumption limits. Exceeding limits can result in fines of at least $10,000 per day per violation, he said. But such action has not been necessary so far, he said.

"Everybody is trying to work together on this thing," Vergara said.

To reach Carl Cronan, call (813) 342-2468, or send your e-mail to

-- Martin Thompson (, February 12, 2001

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