Manatee County, along with 15 other counties in Florida, must reduce water usage during what officials call “the driest dry season in the past 103 years.”
The increased water restrictions came from the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board on Tuesday. The Phase III restrictions will be in effect from June 5 until Aug. 1.
The city of Bradenton announced Tuesday afternoon that the city will also adopt the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s restrictions.
There’s an 11-inch rainfall deficit since the dry season started in October, according to a release from Swiftmud.
“Over the past eight months, this has really been the driest dry season on record. We have 103 years of records,” Granville Kinsman, hydrologic data manager for Swiftmud, said in a video discussing why the district’s governing board voted to enact tighter water restrictions.
With the new restrictions, lawn watering is reduced to once per week, and watering hours are also reduced along with limits on car washing. Homeowners’ associations may not enforce any deed restrictions that could increase water use.
Reclaimed water is still subject to voluntary watering hours, unless it’s been blended with another water source or restricted by the local government or utility, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
“This is a preventative measure, really. We don’t have a water supply problem at this point, partially due to good planning over the past 20 years by the district and by local partners,” Kinsman said in the video.
Manatee County already restricted irrigation to once per day, two times per week, and before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
Micro-irrigation and hand-watering non-lawn areas will still be allowed, if needed. Additional details regarding the watering of new lawns and plants, reclaimed water and other water uses can be found at WaterMatters.org/restrictions.
The water shortage order affects counties throughout the district’s boundaries including Charlotte, Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Sumter.
Kinsman said rivers and streams are the most impacted, flowing at the lowest rates in about five years.
Manatee County currently measures a 574 on the drought index, according to Florida Forest Service. The drought index is broken into 12 categories from zero to 750, with a higher number representing worse drought conditions. Manatee County is on Level 8 of the scale.
Manatee County’s burn ban will remain in effect until at least May 30. The ban has been in effect since April 25.
Though rain has fallen recently, Robert Smith, director of public safety, said in an email to county commissioners that the county “has not received enough rainfall for a significant impact on our dry conditions.”
With the possibility of rainfall and storms on the horizon, according to the National Weather Service, there is hope. But Smith said it would still take a good amount of rain to discontinue the burn ban.
“The big rains we got the other day. ... If we could get two, three, even four days of that level of rain we’d be good,” Smith said. “If we could start rainy season that way, we’d be in good shape.”
The dry conditions have caused firefighters and Florida Forest Service officials grief, as they continue to battle more than 100 wildfires across the state, according to the Florida Forest Service.