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Tampa City Council revisits its tough water rules and eases up slightly

TAMPA — The ban on lawn sprinklers begins today, but some City Council members already want to roll back the restriction and allow sprinkling every other week.

John Dingfelder, the only council member who voted against the ban two weeks ago, said the city acted hastily in approving it.

"I don't understand it," he said. "It's not based on facts."

He hammered on city utility managers Thursday, questioning why the ban was necessary when they had originally suggested allowing sprinklers use every other week.

As the council prepared to vote on exempting private well users from the sprinkler ban, Dingfelder proposed the twice-monthly watering idea.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who said she has heard at cocktail parties from people who are worried about brown lawns, seconded his motion. Council member Joseph Caetano, who represents New Tampa, also voted in favor of it.

But with Gwen Miller absent, Dingfelder's proposal met a tie vote. That prompted a heated and convoluted debate about whether the tie meant the entire proposal failed and needed to be revisited later by the entire board.

Council Chairman Tom Scott called for an immediate vote on the ban with an exemption for well users.

Dingfelder continued arguing.

Scott burst with frustration.

"I am totally embarrassed by all of this," he said. "We look like idiots."

Dingfelder backed off, and the council approved the exemption for well users by a vote of 5-1.

But Dingfelder said he wants to revisit the sprinkler ban next week. "It's unfair and it's unrealistic," he said.

The discussion came after owners of several landscape and irrigation businesses complained that the restrictions went too far.

They argued that the sprinkler ban will be deadly for turf, which they said filters water to recharge the aquifer and generates oxygen.

Sal Chillura, a member of the Florida Irrigation Society, recommended that the city follow the same rules instituted this week by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which largely limit residential sprinkling to four hours once a week.

"It would eliminate a lot of confusion," Chillura said.

But city water officials said the more stringent restrictions are necessary to protect Tampa's water supply. Tampa gets most of its water from the Hillsborough River, which has reached exceptionally low levels.

If the city's reservoir gets much lower, pumps won't be able to generate enough pressure to deliver water to some neighborhoods.

The sprinkler ban will save 30 million gallons of water each week, according to city estimates.

Council member Charlie Miranda, one of the council's most vocal advocates for water conservation, said the ban was difficult but necessary.

"We have a public health problem here," he said. "We cannot continue to do what we've been doing."

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

Tampa City Council revisits its tough water rules and eases up slightly 04/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 3, 2009 12:07am]

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