Tampa City Council continues lawn sprinkling ban despite recent rains

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, May 21, 2009

TAMPA — Despite a week of torrential downpours, the Tampa City Council on Thursday voted to maintain a ban on lawn sprinkling.

In a memo issued earlier this week, Mayor Pam Iorio said she wanted the ban to remain in effect until the city's reservoir reached 21 feet and the flow down the Hillsborough River was at 60 million gallons a day.

As of Thursday, the reservoir, which supplies the city with most of its drinkable water, was at 20.8 feet and 41 million gallons a day was flowing down the river, according to Brad Baird, director of the city's water department.

Council member John Dingfelder, who never supported the ban, urged his colleagues to lift it immediately, saying it was enacted in April because a three-year drought was threatening the region's water supply. Recent rains have lessened that problem, he said.

"The community relies on us to listen to staff and make decisions based on the evidence in front of us," Dingfelder said. "The emergency is over."

Tampa's watering restrictions are more stringent than the rest of the region's. State water regulators last month approved restrictions for Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties that generally limit lawn watering to one day a week between midnight and 4 a.m.

"We should now get in line with Hillsborough County and the rest of the Bay area communities," Dingfelder said.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena agreed.

"Our beloved river is in good shape," she said. "The rains have saved us from being in a dire situation."

But the pair only generated support from council member Joseph Caetano.

The vote to keep the ban came after pleas from owners of landscaping and irrigation businesses to allow watering.

"Many property owners have suffered losses," said John Miller, owner of Oasis Irrigation and Landscape.

A majority of council members, though, were unsympathetic.

Council member Gwen Miller said the rains have been a blessing, but once people are allowed to water again the crisis will return.

"I don't see this [being] as big a hardship as we thought it would be," said Council member Mary Mulhern.

Mulhern said over the long-term the city needs to think about adjusting its code to encourage planting of sod and landscaping that requires minimal watering to survive.

Seminole Heights resident Chip Thomas, while arguing to keep the ban in place, told the council most of the world would be horrified that Americans put a limited resource on sod that doesn't serve any purpose other than aesthetics.

"If we were rational and objective about this there would be far more outrage about use of drinking water on lawns than there is about the current restrictions," he said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.


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