Tampa Bay Water's overpumping fine can pay for landscaping study
TAMPA - Money from a fine levied against the region's water supplier for excessive pumping at wellfields in the winter and spring will pay for a study of how much water Florida Friendly Landscaping saves. The Southwest Florida Water Management District fined Tampa Bay Water $46,000 plus $2,000 in costs for exceeding the utility's permit levels at wellfields in Pasco and north Hillsborough counties during the dry season. Instead of funneling the money into water management district coffers, the district agreed to let Tampa Bay Water use the money for a conservation study. The board of Tampa Bay Water will put the money toward a University of Florida study aimed at finding out how much water is saved by homes that use a landscaping plan that cuts the amount of sod and uses microirrigation and plants that require less water.Swiftmud has reached similar agreements with other public utilities fined for violating permits. Tampa Bay Water does not receive tax money but gets its funding through residents' water bills. The district's governing board still has to approve the deal. The proposed study would compare water use of 200 homes, half with Florida Friendly Landscaping and half with traditional landscaping. The study's goal is to determine how much water the landscaping technique saves, and results are expected by November 2010. A new law this year that says homeowners associations cannot prohibit residents from using Florida Friendly Landscaping prompted the study. Tampa Bay Water incurred the fine during the dry season when it had to ratchet up pumping at 11 wellfields. The utility that supplies wholesale water to public utilities in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey had to lean heavily on the wells after its reservoir went dry. The Swiftmud permit limits withdrawls from the wellfields to 90 million gallons a day. At the peak of pumping in March, the utility took an average of 140 million gallons a day from the wellfields. Pumping declined below the permit level once summer rains started and Tampa Bay Water could tap rivers instead of the aquifer.
Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at (813) 259-7731.