Hillsborough lifts water restrictions in south county

The start of the new year meant the start of new water rules in fast-growing southern Hillsborough County.

The county ordinance limiting outdoor irrigation to one day a week expired Sunday. The temporary rules, approved by the County Commission in December 2020, were intended to offset what the county termed “dangerously low” water pressure in the southern part of the county utility system.

The low pressure, attributed to peak demand from landscape watering, raised having to issue possible boil water notices for customers or potentially hampering firefighting efforts in the region.

The rules were unpopular, in part, because they lumped long-established population centers together with the owners of newly built homes irrigating new sod and landscaping.

“Sun City Center, the Ruskin area — the watering once a week was not satisfactory to a lot of them,” said Commissioner Michael Owen. “You’ve got real established communities like Sun City Center that were bearing the brunt because of all the development and water pressure issues. They felt they shouldn’t be suffering because of that.”

The rules, which also prohibited overnight watering, applied to the areas south of the Alafia River.

Commercial and residential property owners now will follow the same twice-a-week countywide watering schedule set by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

“It was a long two years,” said Noelle Licor, a Ruskin community activist who made an unsuccessful run for the County Commission in 2022.

So what changed?

The two-year rule, which the county estimated would reduce peak daily demand by 15 million gallons, allowed the county time to complete a pair of projects to boost water pressure.

The county built a storage tank holding 3 million gallons of water a day to be used during peak demand, and a booster pump station near the intersection of Big Bend and Balm Riverview roads to increase pressure in water lines.

Additionally, the county is building a new transmission main from the Triple Creek area to the Balm and Sun City Center areas. It will add 11.5 miles of new pipes to expand system capacity. It is scheduled to be completed in early 2024.

The county’s south-central water system serves 465,000 people. In 2021, the county said it had committed to providing an additional 6 million gallons a day of drinking water to 23,000 new homes and apartments over the coming six years.