Watering restrictions start earlier as huge reservoir remains offline in Hillsborough County

LITHIA, Fla. - By mid-week, brand-new -- stricter -- watering restrictions will be in place for Hillsborough and Pinellas County residents.

Starting on March 13, lawn watering will be limited to once a week.  Fines for not following the rules top out at over $190.

The reason is not just lack of rain and increased usage, but also a lack of space to store water, as the C.W. "Bill" Young Reservoir remains offline.

When the water is all the way up to the 136-and-a-half-foot mark, the pond, five-miles-around the edge, holds a whopping 15-and-a-half-billion gallons.  The problem is that this dry season, it's particularly water-less because construction crews are tearing out all the sides.

"We hope to be able to start our initial filling by the summer of next year," said Rick Menzies, Project Manager for the construction phase.

That will make a full year more offline for the eight-year-old reservoir that opened with so much fanfare and optimism back in 2005.

"What was lacking in our original design was a drainage layer, and that's what we're going in there now to fix, is to put a drainage layer in the system," said Menzies.

"So to do that," he continued, "there's a soil cement layer that comes off and also what we call a soil wedge -- a layer of soil -- that has to come off as well to install a drainage layer.

When everything is cranked up fully here, a crew of up to 160 workers will be pulling double shifts, to essentially rebuild the walls of this whole hole.

We'll have to conserve this year -- starting sooner (now) and likely lasting longer... because, well, this is a huge job.

"There's a long way to go, but remember there's 5 miles of embankment," said the project manager.  It's estimated that there is 85 percent of the wall left to demolish and rebuild.

In addition to watching the bottom line -- the $129 million that this project will cost, adding roughly a buck a month to the average homeowners bill -- we're also watching the weather.

The moderate drought conditions we've been dealing with so far this year, with a rainfall deficit of more than four inches, we are seeing some river levels and aquifers recede.

And even with the rain on the way Monday night and into tomorrow, it won't be enough.

So get used to the restrictions and maybe prepare for more. 

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