S. Florida asked to conserve water
              Published Wednesday, April 21, 1999, in the Miami Herald
reprinted with permission
Herald Staff Writers

With no end in sight to the drought, regional water managers appealed for assistance
Tuesday from the 4.7 million residents of South Florida. Voluntary conservation can
help the area avoid mandatory restrictions if the rains do not return soon, they said.

Water reserves remain adequate for now, experts said, but South Florida's water table
is beginning to drop and faucet pressure is falling in portions of North Miami Beach,
Weston, Hollywood and elsewhere as more people use more water more often.

``We're asking people to be very conservative in their water use,'' said Ann Overton, a
spokeswoman for the South Florida Water Management District, which controls water
flow through 16 southern counties of Florida.

``A brown lawn could be a badge of honor at this time.''

If so, many homeowners in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties
already are among the honorees.

In addition, mandatory water restrictions took effect this week in Fort Myers and
Naples. Water managers in the Florida Keys temporarily reduced pressure last week
in the 130-mile pipeline that carries most of the islands' drinking water from the
mainland. Several counties and cities are quarreling over water supplies.

And in many corners of South Florida, customers are complaining about low water
pressure in their kitchens and bathrooms.

``We started getting the calls last week,'' said Rich Ropke, water and sewer field
supervisor in Weston. ``Every day without rain makes it that much worse.''

Said Joe Arena, who manages North Miami Beach's water plant: ``You can feel the
drop. Dade County's been holding back on us a little bit.''

The North Miami Beach plant is linked to Miami-Dade's Water and Sewer Department.
As Miami-Dade's system becomes overtaxed, Arena said, North Miami Beach has
been forced to make up the difference.

Jorge Rodriguez, deputy director of the county's water department, said the county has
not reduced water pressure or imposed water use restrictions. ``If this dry spell
continues for another month or so, we might ask people to voluntarily cut back on
water use,'' he said.

Water dispute

Last week, according to Keys water managers, Miami-Dade sought permission to
siphon some water from wells near Florida City that are reserved for the Keys.

The Keys refused the request, according to Kathy Ovide, a spokeswoman for the
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. Rodriguez said he knew nothing about the affair.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising between Weston and Sunrise -- all 40,000 Weston
residents get their water from Sunrise's utility company.

``They won't even let contractors flush their pipes,'' Ropke said. ``We're at their mercy.
We can't control our own system.''

Sunrise utility officials did not respond to calls from The Herald.

On the regional level, hydrologists at the South Florida Water Management District said
the underground Biscayne Aquifer that funnels water to Broward and Miami-Dade is
slowly being diminished but is not yet at dangerously low levels.

Meanwhile, Lake Okeechobee stands at 14.06 feet, about four inches below average
for this time of year -- but well within the acceptable range.

The real problem, hydrologists said, is more fundamental: Too many people are using
too much water at the same time to offset the drought.

South Floridians are sprinkling their parched lawns, re-filling their depleted pools,
washing their dusty cars, rinsing their dirty patios and running their showers and
bathtubs at impressive, if somewhat irresponsible, levels.

Low pressure

The result: low water pressure.

Many sprinkler systems tap lakes or wells, which in some cases are becoming
depleted. Many other sprinklers connect to the same system that delivers water to your
kitchen and bathroom.

Overton said mandatory restrictions for Miami-Dade and Broward are not currently
envisioned -- assuming that ground water levels do not drop precipitously, salt water
from the ocean does not intrude deep into the aquifer and the rains return by mid-June.

Still, many South Florida residents are beginning to feel the effects.

   In North Miami Beach, water normally is delivered at a pressure of 70 pounds per
square inch, Arena said. During peak hours -- from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4:30 to
7:30 p.m. -- that pressure sometimes drops to 65 or 60 psi.

Many times in the past six weeks, however, water pressure plunged under 60 psi. That
means water trickles rather than shoots out of the shower head.

   Officials in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale have increased monitoring for possible
intrusion of salt water in their wells. Hollywood has postponed the annual flushing of
fire hydrants as a conservation measure.

   During the past month, water managers in the Keys have sold more water than
allowed by their state water management permit. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority
reached a recent high volume on April 12, when it sold 18.9 million gallons -- nearly
one million gallons more than it is supposed to pump.

``People were trying to save their yards,'' Ovide said.

To preserve water this past weekend, Keys officials reduced pressure in the main
pipeline by 10 pounds per square inch -- an amount not noticeable to most
consumers, Ovide said.

Pressure was restored Monday after weekend rains temporarily eased the situation.
Still, authorities are asking Keys residents to water lawns only at night, wash their cars
on the grass and adopt other common sense precautions.

   In Southwest Florida, mandatory restrictions took effect Monday in all of Lee County
and parts of Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties.

Homeowners and businesses there can water lawns and wash cars only between 4
a.m. and 8 a.m. on alternate days -- Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for
odd-numbered addresses; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays for even-numbered

Similar restrictions were imposed on portions of Miami-Dade and Broward during
droughts in the early 1980s and from late 1989 to 1991, Overton said.

Water managers are hoping to avoid that this time around. Their advice is simple:

``Conserve water,'' Overton said, ``and be careful with fire.''

Herald staff writers Lisette Garcia and Marika Lynch contributed to this report.


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