TAMPA — Two weeks after Tampa banned lawn sprinkling, city water officials gave their own Parks Department the green light to violate that rule.
An exemption granted April 17 allowed twice-weekly watering of city-owned athletic fields and clay tennis courts, and as-needed watering at its plant nursery at Lowry Park.
But Monday, after news reports called attention to the in-house exemption, Mayor Pam Iorio rescinded it, telling parks officials to irrigate with reclaimed water.
Parks officials initially said they needed the variance at recreation sites for athlete safety, dust control and to repair turf after heavy use.
Water Department director Brad Baird granted the waiver for 11 different athletic fields not serviced by reclaimed water.
Baird said the mayor had been unaware of the exemption.
Parks and recreation director Karen Palus said she did consider having trucks deliver reclaimed water to those locations, but feared the force of the water coming from the hoses would damage the fields.
"We treated parks and recreation like we treated everybody else," said Water Department spokesman Eli Franco. "If there are legitimate reasons, and they put together a plan that shows every attempt to conserve water, we grant the variance."
Nearly 20 variances have been granted since April 3, when the sprinkling ban went into effect in response to a three-year drought, Franco said.
Many of the exemptions relate to a rule requiring owners of buildings that rely on water-based cooling systems to set thermostats at 78 degrees or above.
Some residents and business owners have also received permission to hand-water, which is allowed under the emergency restrictions, on a day other than their designated watering day.
The Tampa Sports Authority got permission to water the Buccaneers training field, and Hillsborough County schools received a variance for watering its athletic fields.
Tampa's watering restrictions are the region's most severe.
Last month, the Southwest Florida Water Management District also imposed new rules for Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Among other things, the regulations limit lawn sprinkling to midnight to 4 a.m., and ban ornamental fountains, residential pressure washing and car washing.
District spokeswoman Robyn Felix said the agency has had a flood of requests for exemptions to the rules.
She said the district typically gets 100 to 150 variance requests in an entire year. But in the past four weeks, about 60 exemption requests have come in for everything from car washing to care of koi ponds.
Felix said the district has approved about 12 of the requests.
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.