Manatee to remain under strict water watch

MANATEE — The Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board voted Tuesday not to lift extreme water restrictions for Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

The continuation of Phase III irrigation restrictions will run until July 31, said Robyn Felix, a management district spokeswoman.

“My initial reaction was that I wasn’t that surprised,” said Victoria Zimarino, Manatee County’s water conservation program manager. “Like everyone else, I noticed that although we did get rain in May, we are not yet in recovery mode.”

Manatee County went under Phase III water restrictions Feb. 24.

Under the restriction, watering is limited to once a week, before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m., Felix said.

Pressure washing is allowed only for health and safety reasons and restaurants are to serve water on request only.

Fountains and other water features may operate only four hours per day and car washing is limited to once a week.

“The general message from the governing board was that we still are in a long-term drought,” Felix said. “The board did commend the public for conservation efforts over the last several months.”

The governing board will meet again on July 28 and will vote then on lifting or continuing the restriction for Manatee and other counties, Felix said.

Rainfall was plentiful in May, which is normally the end of the dry season, Felix said.

But the lack of rain in normally wet June has sent the aquifers slowly backwards again, she said.

Lake Manatee, the county’s main drinking source, has held steady at 39 feet, about three feet above historical averages for this time of year, said John Zimmerman, Manatee County deputy director of utilities.

“The real importance of extending these restrictions is that we’re all part of this regional system,” Zimmerman said. “Southwest Florida Water Management wants to make sure the Manatee County system will be strong when we come out of the rainy season. We need the aquifer system to recover, also.”

The Tampa Bay area remains in a Phase IV, or critical, phase, Felix said.

Manatee County residents can help by running their dishwasher or washing machines only when full, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving and taking shorter showers, Felix said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.