By Kyle LoJacono
Despite above-average rainfall this year in the Tampa Bay area, the regional water use board has elected to extend current water restrictions through February.
Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties have received 50.73 inches of rain through Oct. 26, almost 6 inches more than the average for an entire year. However, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly called Swiftmud, has voted to keep Phase I restrictions in place for the next few months for all 16 counties it overseas.
“There were some areas of the district that received heavy rainfall at times, but overall our rainy season was not as productive as we had hoped,” said Lois Sorensen, manager of Swiftmud’s demand management program. “There were improvements in October, but we are expecting a drier-than-normal winter due to the La Niña weather pattern.”
Sorensen said the region’s water supply is in relatively good shape, but added caution is still needed to ensure that remains true.
“We need to watch conditions closely as the dry season continues and consider stricter measures if water resources or water supply conditions warrant them,” Sorensen said.
Phase I is meant to prepare for worsening drought conditions. Residents are also asked to check their irrigation system to see if it is working properly by fixing broken pipes and tilted sprinkler heads.
Watering is still limited to two days per week either before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. with Phase I restrictions.
“However, residents should check with their county or city government to see if they have stricter restrictions,” said Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
Swiftmud’s governing board will vote again in February to see if the restrictions should be extended.
In addition, Swiftmud announced it is cutting up to 150 positions to meet its new budget, which has been slashed by 44 percent from last year. Of the jobs on the chopping block, 40 are vacant. The district currently has 768 employees.
“We are blessed with smart and talented people,” said Swiftmud executive director Blake Guillory. “Unfortunately, we are caught in a situation driven by economic conditions. We need to be as thoughtful and helpful as we can during this process while also serving the taxpayers of our area.”
Swiftmud has offered staffers voluntary severance packages for up to 45 days. The district will begin cutting jobs early next year if enough people don’t take the offer.
“As an organization, we have to get leaner and more efficient,” Guillory said. “The more quickly we can get right-sized for our budget and workload, the faster we can move forward, secure in our jobs, to meet the water resource challenges of this district.”
For more information on Swiftmud, visit www.WaterMatters.org or call (800) 848-0499.