The Southwest Florida Water Management District's Governing Board voted today to ease water restrictions for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties beginning January 1.

The Board voted to allow the Modified Phase III (or Extreme) restrictions for the Tampa Bay area expire on December 31, because Tampa Bay Water has made substantial progress in reducing its groundwater withdrawals in recent months.

The regional water supply authority's annual average withdrawals had been exceeding its permit. With 13.85 billion gallons of water stored in the 15-billion-gallon C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, Tampa Bay Water is expected to get within permit limits this month. The three-county area will now follow the District's Modified Phase II (or Severe) water restrictions.

The drought, however, is not over. "The effects of our four-year drought can still be seen in our lakes, rivers and groundwater," said Granville Kinsman, the District's Hydrologic Data Manager. "Forecasters are predicting above-normal rainfall through mid-spring, which could improve conditions. However, if we don't receive above-normal rainfall this winter, we can expect to see declines through May."

All counties in the District will now follow Modified Phase II restrictions, except Marion County, which follows the St. John's River Water Management District's year-round measures.

Under the Phase II restrictions, lawn watering is limited to a once-per-week schedule and is limited to the hours of before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. for properties less than one acre. The restrictions apply to potable and non-potable water sources. Please see the table below for a quick reference of current restrictions and requirements.

Current Restrictions and Requirements Quick Reference
Measure Modified II Modified III
Lawn watering Once per week Once per week
Maximum hours 8 (14 if more than 1 acre) 8 (14 if more than 2 acres)
Micro-irrigation Any day, any time Any day, before
8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
New Lawns 30/30 establishment 15/15 establishment
Large fountains 8 hrs per day 4 hrs per day
Pressure washing Necessary purposes Necessary purposes
Car washing Once per week Once per week