updated 4/12/2007 4:00:56 PM ET 2007-04-12T20:00:56

South Florida residents must cut water use by up to 30 percent under new rules approved Thursday in response to unprecedented drought conditions.

The board of the South Florida Water Management District approved restrictions that call for a 30 percent reduction in water use in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte counties. Martin and St. Lucie counties will have to reduce use by 15 percent.

Residents around Lake Okeechobee will have to cut back 30 percent, while farmers in that area must cut use by 45 percent.

Officials said South Florida would need at least six weeks of steady rain with several inches a day to return to normal water levels. The region has never seen such widespread drought, district director Carol Wehle said.

The rules mean many residents will have to cut back lawn and garden watering to two days a week between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., and could face fines of $25 to $500 a day if they don't comply. District officials will use helicopters to keep an eye on large-scale users such as farms, which could be fined up to $10,000 a day.

Last month, the state instituted water restrictions for much of South Florida that were intended to cut use by at least 15 percent. But district officials said more cutbacks were needed.

The drought is creating prime wildfire conditions. Roughly 1,300 wildfires burned more than 75,000 acres around the state from January through March, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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