Floirida Dade's water reserves near crisis point

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Dade's water reserves near crisis point

Penelas announces waste crackdown, daily meetings to plan for emergency BY MICHAEL GREENWALD mgreenwald@herald.com

Drought strategy crafted

Without heavy rain and a sharp decrease in consumption, Miami-Dade County will deplete its water reserves in four to six weeks, Mayor Alex Penelas warned Friday, announcing a crackdown on water wasters.

He committed the county's Emergency Operations Center to help enforce water restrictions and said officials would be meeting daily to develop a crisis management plan.

Depletion of reserves in the vast water conservation areas west of Miami would force the county to draw exclusively on its main source, the Biscayne Aquifer. If too much fresh water is drawn from the aquifer, salt water from the coast could seep in, contaminating well fields.

The EOC will be staffed with a duty officer 24 hours a day to field calls from residents reporting violations of water restrictions.

Miami-Dade County has achieved at best a 9 percent reduction in water consumption, far short of the 30 percent cut targeted by water managers. Unless it rains and less water is consumed, ``we may soon be facing consequences of a grave nature,'' said County Manager Steve Shiver.

``We are in the midst of what experts are calling the worst drought in our recorded history,'' Penelas said. ``We must do a much better job.'' He said the county might consider increasing water bills to encourage conservation.

Water managers already have begun slapping first-time violators with $75 fines.


Since the Phase II restrictions began in January, 90 fines have been handed out by Miami-Dade police and the county's Environmental Resources Management, the vast majority in the past three weeks.

The number is expected to increase dramatically when tougher Phase III restrictions go into effect on Wednesday. Those rules are likely to limit lawn watering to three hours on a weekend day.

The stricter water usage guidelines aim to reduce consumption by 35-45 percent. During Phase III, lawn watering will be limited to one day a week for three hours and decorative fountains will be shut down.


The county has never undergone Phase II or Phase III restrictions.

Details of the new regulations will be debated at a public meeting Tuesday of the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. The tougher rules could pose severe economic problems for many local businesses.

``I regret that these restrictions will cause hardships, but they are necessary,'' Penelas said.

But those in the nursery, car-washing, golf course and pool businesses may receive a break from some of the restrictions, said Roman Gastesi Jr., director of the water district's Miami-Dade regional center.

``We're talking about altering the restrictions to relieve the economic impact,'' Gastesi said. ``What exactly that will be, I don't know.''

But if the tougher restrictions fail to limit water consumption sufficiently, ``there is no doubt in my mind we could go to a state of emergency,'' said EOC Director Chuck Lanza.

To prevent that, in addition to greater enforcement of the restrictions, pumps are now being installed to send water from Lake Okeechobee to Miami-Dade County.

When the lake -- now at 10.2 feet -- reaches 10 feet, the pumps will begin pushing water south and into canals, Gastesi said.


Water managers urged residents again Friday to limit their water use beyond what is required by law by taking shorter showers, turning off faucets while brushing teeth and using dishwashers and washing machines less frequently.

For outdoor water use, until Wednesday, residents may water their lawns from 4 to 8 a.m. Thursdays and Sundays for even-numbered addresses and Wednesdays and Saturdays for odd-numbered addresses.

Hand-watering is permitted from one hose from 5 to 7 p.m. on an unpaved surface on the same days.

Washing cars and boats is allowed from 4 to 8 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., also only on unpaved surfaces.

Landscaping newer than 30 days may be watered from 2 to 8 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 24, 2001

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