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St. Petersburg Times

Friday, March 1, 2002


Faster faucets on tap

TAMPA -- You know the drill: Shower first, then flush the toilet. And don't do laundry if the sprinklers are running.

Water pressure problems go hand in hand with life in Tampa's oldest neighborhoods, some of which rely on 75-year-old city pipes. The outdated mains - too narrow and clogged with mineral deposits - often can't keep up with demand.

Nearly one-fourth of the city's 2,200 miles of water lines are undersized, says Mark Oural, chief engineer for the Tampa Water Department.

That's no surprise to Marie Ballon in Beach Park, who shudders whenever house guests head for the showers.

"It's a disaster if you have four people trying to go anywhere," she says.

There's little relief ahead for Ballon, but stronger water pressure may be in the works for some residents of Bayshore Beautiful, Bayshore Gardens, Palma Ceia, Virginia Park and Davis Islands, neighborhoods expected to benefit from a $4.7-million overhaul of water mains this year and early next.

The Tampa Water Department plans to replace roughly 14 miles of South Tampa lines, in most cases substituting 6-inch pipes for 2-inch.

Improved water pressure isn't the goal, Oural said. It's just a perk in a plan to feed fire hydrants with thicker lines and to get rid of old cast iron pipes. The hydrants can't be connected to 2-inch lines.

Residents who witnessed past pipe replacement programs say the new plumbing helps.

"I sensed an improvement when the lines were replaced that served our street," said John LaRocca, president of the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association.

So did Ann Johnson of Sunset Park, who made a habit of calling the Tampa Water Department and letting officials know of her water pressure problems.

"I called them every day," Johnson said. "We now have a new water pipe."

In October, the city replaced the two-inch main on her street, Longfellow Avenue, with a 6-inch pipe. Johnson's water pressure problems vanished.

"We were fortunate," said her husband, Wofford Johnson, president of the Sunset Park Area Homeowners Association. "The infrastructure is old and inadequate throughout most of South Tampa."

Beach Park residents recently cited water pressure concerns when they opposed plans for the Gables, a proposed residential development south of Kennedy Boulevard.

David Tippin, director of the Tampa Water Department, largely dismisses water pressure problems in South Tampa.

"By code, we don't guarantee pressure in any way," Tippin said. "We don't guarantee maximum or minimum pressure."

The condition of the water main isn't the only factor that affects pressure, he said, noting that part of the blame may lie within the interior pipes of older homes, narrowed by decades of accumulated sediment.

"I had to have all of mine replaced," he said.

He lives in Sunset Park.

Replacing pipes in an average home could cost $2,500, said plumber Peter Ragano Sr.

Emily Purcell Reynolds, president of the Beach Park Homeowners Association, doesn't entirely buy Tippin's contention that household plumbing is to blame.

Her four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home was built in 1997.

"We have had terrible water pressure problems since the day we moved in," she said. "It was especially frustrating when we moved into a new home and we had worse water pressure than we did in a 1950s home."

If sprinklers are on, no one can shower, she said.

"The city says there's no problem," Reynolds said. "It's a problem if you are living with it."

Adam Krantz, a spokesman for the Water Infrastructure Network, says Tampa isn't the only locale struggling to replace its water lines.

"In some places, they're dealing with 120-year-old pipes," he said. "I wouldn't say yours are young. The ideal is to make sure that nothing is really over 50 years old."

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