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Tampa City Council sticks with tough watering restrictions

TAMPA — The city of Tampa's lawn watering restrictions, the toughest in the region, survived an attempt Thursday in City Council to allow alternate-week watering with sprinklers.

In a 4-2 vote, the council rejected John Dingfelder's proposal to bring the law closer to what city staff had recommended, and what is practiced in surrounding counties.

"We are the only city to my knowledge that has gone to zero watering. We did it prematurely," Dingfelder said.

Member Linda Saul-Sena added that although the city's ordinance must require conservation during the ongoing drought, "it also must be enough to keep people's gardens alive."

The existing law, which took effect April 3, allows hand-watering only, and carries a $100 fine for violators. New rules from the Southwest Florida Water Management District limit hours for lawn sprinkling and ban ornamental fountains, residential pressure washing and car washing.

Previously, the water management agency ordered homeowners to stop resodding lawns, and directed local governments to step up enforcement efforts. Weather experts predict a drier than normal spring that will continue at least until the start of the rainy season in June.

About a dozen representatives from landscape and irrigation businesses attended Thursday's hearing, hoping to plead their case.

"We never had a chance," said David Davis, who installs and repairs irrigation systems. "And there's going to be businesses closed. Probably next week I'll be looking to get rid of two employees."

Tampa officials estimate that the city has saved about 51 million gallons of water since the restrictions began.

"I don't know if we had a monsoon from last week to this week," said Charlie Miranda, who has championed the restrictions. "But I know we've had a monsoon of people doing the right thing, and that's watering less."

As business owners heckled him quietly from the audience, Miranda said it would be a gamble to ease restrictions when the Hillsborough River, the source of most of the city's water, has posted record low levels for weeks.

"I am not a gambler," he said. "I do not roll the dice when the numbers might come up against public safety."

Countered Dingfelder: "I'm not a gambler either. But I am a public servant. And we are obligated to listen to the public and listen to our staff. ... And our staff recommended every other week."

Dingfelder said after the hearing that he was surprised the council has taken such an extreme position.

"I don't believe in government by fear tactics," he said. "I think it's unfair to the middle class. The very rich people will take the $100 ticket."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 269-5307 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Tampa City Council sticks with tough watering restrictions 04/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 1:39pm]

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