Dry Lands

With all the talk about the drought and water supply shortage, it’s a wonder there aren’t tumbleweeds rolling by along I-275.

May brought about the worst month of drought ever experienced in the state. Two days of the month, the 2nd and the 28th, produced a few drops of rain in the area, but nowhere near enough as was needed.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, referred to as “SWIFTMUD,” enforced a set of district guidelines in May 2000 which significantly limited the use of water supplies across the region.

Worsening conditions throughout the past year produced a tightening of those rules, plus a considerable amount of additions.The rules for water restrictions first went by even and odd addresses, and were further tightened by the last digit of the address. They were initially set in order to enable only a few homes on each block to water at once. Additional orders mandated cut-off valves on hoses and limited car washing.But some residents just didn’t listen.

According to the City of Tampa Water Department, a total of 304 citations were issued for water violations during the first two weeks of June.

USF wasn’t immune to the rules, either. Large institutions and businesses such as the university are under the same limitations as the rest of Tampa’s residents, which means they have to follow the same decreed of evens and odds.

“Since we technically have two addresses, one even and one odd, we were irrigating one half of the campus on one day and the other half on another day,” said Adrian Cuarta, director for the campus Physical Plant.

And the unirrigated parts of campus, such as areas of Research Park and medians on outlying parts of parking lots, became masses of dead and brown grass.

So what’s the solution?

“We’ve had in place for some time a computerized system that monitors the irrigation system,” said Cuarta. “The system uses software that checks the timing of the sprinklers all over campus.”

The system is designed to sense weather conditions. For example, if a steady rainfall was measured by the computers, the sprinkler systems are supposed to have automatically shut off.However, this system does not always work correctly.

As the long-awaited rain fell Sunday, the sprinkler systems were still shooting out water.

Area apartments experienced the pressure of the drought with very few ways to fight back.

Oak Ramble Village, located between Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, experienced a steady recession of the lake in the back of the complex, followed by a forced choice to completely do away with the fountains within.

“To put it bluntly, it (the drought) sucks,” said Tim DelSanto, an employee of the apartment complex. “I recently transferred over here from the Carlyle (on Waters Avenue), where we were literally going out to the pond daily to push the fish back into the water.”

Cambridge Woods Apartments, on 42nd Street, accounted for their sunburned lawns with a sign outside, “We’re not as green as we can be.”

Two miles up the road on 50th Street, Palm Lake Apartments were experiencing similar problems.

“The pond – if you can call it a pond – went way down,” said Glorianna Felix, a tenant of the apartments.

According to Dan Robinson, an employee of the Palm Lake Apartment complex office, the pond level wasn’t the only difficulty. With the drying grass and tough watering restrictions, pest problems also became quite a hindrance.

“Yeah, there were a lot more ants,” said Robinson. “They came from everywhere looking for water.”

Because of the constant threat of over-consuming water supplies, Robinson said Palm Lake was forced to discontinue the inclusion of water in the rent.

Robinson reported a significant decrease in water use that totaled almost $1,500 per month after residents began to pay for their own water.

“I saw the numbers,” he said. “I guess that if something was leaking before, no one cared too much about it since they weren’t the ones paying for it.”

The rains have come, though, and grasses are steadily becoming lush and green once again.

Water officials warn that the drought is still in place, so it continues to be important to control water consumption even as the recent band of storms persist.

That means no watering before 6 p.m. on Sundays.And keep that carwash short.

And make sure that hose has a cut-off valve.

Or is that for the odds?