Tampa's ban on lawn sprinkling starts Friday

04/02/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Less than 24 hours before Tampa’s new radical water conservation law is to go into effect, two City Council members changed their minds on the matter, nearly thwarting it from becoming law. But the proposal to reverse their original ruling did not gain a majority, and the ban will begin as scheduled on Friday.

Two weeks ago, Council members, on a 5-1 vote, decided to ban all lawn sprinkling in the city to contend with the current drought conditions plaguing the city. That’s more restrictive than any other local municipality.

But today, Councilman John Dingfelder, the only member to oppose the measure originally, proposed an amendment that would allow for watering every other week – and he picked up support from two other colleagues.

Dingfelder severely questioned officials with Mayor Pam Iorio’s administration, who two weeks ago presented the Council with two options – move from allowing people to water their lawns for an hour once a week to every other week, or go to no lawn sprinkling at all. The majority of the Council argued that with conditions so low for the city’s main sources of potable water, the Hillsborough River and the reservoir, that it would be foolish to wait two more weeks before deciding. But Dingfelder said he was never convinced that the city should go to such drastic conditions.

The Council tied at 3-3 on the measure, with Gwen Miller absent. After a lengthy debate about procedure, the Council agreed to let the new measure take affect and vote on Dingfelder’s amendment next week.

Councilman Charlie Miranda said he could not understand what Dingfelder meant by the facts not justifying such measures.

Dingfelder’s point was that in a similar situation in 2000, the city did not go to the measures they are now advocating for now. But City Utilities Administrator Steve Dagnault said circumstances are different now.

Two council members who voted for the original ban two weeks ago tried to reverse their vote – Joseph Catano and Linda Saul-Sena.

Before Dingfelder’s amendment came up for a vote, Saul-Sena questioned the Water Manager Brad Baird about benchmarks as to when the emergency situation the city now faces would be over.

On Tuesday, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) imposed tighter water restrictions for residents living in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties. But those requirements still allow for lawn sprinkling once a week.

The city’s tighter rules has caused consternation, particularly among those who make a living by irrigating laws. Several such workers complained before the Council this morning.

Miranda said he appreciated the information supplied by the contractors, but said the water shortage situation was so grave, the Council had to be bold in its decision.

The Council will vote on the measure to reverse its vote and allow for lawn sprinkling every other week at the beginning of next Thursday’s meeting.

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