TAMPA — The city's ban on lawn sprinkling, the state's toughest watering restriction, will end Monday.
A Thursday vote by the City Council followed a recommendation by Mayor Pam Iorio, who noted that heavy rains have raised the Hillsborough River, the city's main water source.
The vote was 5-2, with Charlie Miranda and Mary Mulhern urging their council colleagues to stick with the 2-month-old ban.
"A three-year drought is not solved by two weeks of rain," Mulhern said.
Tampa has a long-term water supply and distribution problem, she said, and it's been inspiring to her to speak with so many people who understand that bigger picture and have supported the ban.
"For us to change our minds today makes their sacrifice not valued," she said.
Mulhern and Miranda said the City Council's back-and-forth discussion about lifting the ban in recent weeks has weakened its credibility.
"If this ever happens again the public is not going to give us the support they've given us now," Miranda said.
When the ban was imposed April 3, the Hillsborough River and city reservoir were dangerously low.
Earlier this month, only 16.8 million gallons of water a day flowed down the river, and the reservoir water level had fallen to 18 feet. If it had dropped to 15 feet, it would have been impossible to deliver water to parts of Tampa.
By Thursday, after a two-week drenching that dumped nearly a foot of rain on the region, the reservoir level measured 21.8 feet and 211 million gallons a day flowed down the river.
South Tampa resident Wayne Spiwak said he's glad that the ban, which saved 500 million gallons of water, is about to end.
"It was turning into an economic hardship because we were going to have to replace all the landscaping," Spiwak said. "We actually hired people to hand water with us. We were fortunate in this case because of the rain that came eventually."
Residents throughout the region are still being asked to conserve water.
When Tampa's sprinkling ban ends Monday, the city will be subject to emergency restrictions imposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Lawn watering will be allowed once a week from midnight to 4 a.m. Noncommercial car washing and pressure washing are not permitted.
District officials imposed those rules for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties on April 3 amid concerns that Tampa Bay Water, the regional utility, was struggling to meet demand.
The water district's board will revisit those restrictions June 23.
River and aquifer levels throughout the Tampa Bay area have returned to normal levels due to the rain, water district spokeswoman Robyn Felix said.
With the rivers and canals replenished, Tampa Bay Water expects to start drawing surface water this weekend to supplement groundwater pumping.
On Saturday, the utility began withdrawing more than 100 million gallons a day from the Tampa Bypass Canal and Alafia River for storage at the C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in southeast Hillsborough County.
Low flows had kept the Alafia and Bypass Canal largely off limits since late last year.
Water from the two water bodies and the reservoir will start flowing this weekend to the utility's water treatment plant in Brandon for distribution to customers. The plant has been out of commission since mid March because no water was available.
Repairs at Tampa Bay Water's desalination plant also have been completed, and the facility is now producing nearly 25 million gallons a day, up from about 14 million in March.
"We're starting to see some real improvements, but we have a long way to go," said Felix, who noted that lake levels are still low. "We still have an overall shortage in the Tampa Bay water system."
Times staff writer Jared Leone contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.