TAMPA — With no rain in sight and troubles at water production facilities, Tampa may be heading toward a ban on lawn sprinklers.
"That's kind of a far extreme at this moment. But we might get there before we get out of this dry season," said Steve Daignault, the city's utilities administrator.
Daignault said he'll talk to the City Council today about a two-phased approach to reducing water consumption in the city, starting with allowing lawn watering every other week instead of weekly.
Eventually, he said, sprinklers could be banned altogether and lawns would have to be watered by hand or micro-irrigation.
Some council members, though, say they're ready to ban sprinklers now.
"I believe in no sprinkling. It's got to be done," said Charlie Miranda, who has long been beating the water conservation drum.
Council member Mary Mulhern echoed those sentiments.
"I'd go for no sprinklers at all," she said. "Hand watering you have to do, especially if you're growing things to eat."
Current restrictions allow lawn sprinklers and hand-watering of grass once a week. Hand-watering of plants is allowed any day between 6 p.m and 8 a.m.
Tampa issues about 40 citations a week for watering violations, with round-the-clock searches for violators.
Fines are $100 for the first infraction, $200 for the second, and $450 and a court appearance for the third.
Other cities and counties are stepping up water restriction enforcement efforts amid the drought.
St. Petersburg launched night patrols by water cops Monday. In two days, they caught 100 violators. That's more citations than the city issued in the first six months of daytime patrols, which began in October. Each fine is $188.
Hillsborough County has issued fewer citations in recent months and has no immediate plans to tighten its watering rules for residents in unincorporated areas, said Michelle Van Dyke, a water department spokeswoman. Overall water use is down from a year ago, meaning conservation efforts are paying off, she added.
Daignault hopes the discussion with the City Council will lead to an ordinance that could be voted on next week. He said the city has reached a critical state, drawing 50 million gallons a day from a reservoir on the Hillsborough River and buying 30 million gallons a day from regional supplier Tampa Bay Water.
But he said he's concerned about Tampa Bay Water's ability to keep up with demand, because its reservoir is empty and a desalination plant isn't operating at capacity.
Council chairman Tom Scott wondered whether it would make more sense to go straight to a ban on sprinkling.
"There's some grass that's got to be watered on a regular basis or it can't survive. Is watering every other week logical? I don't think so," he said.
Hand-watering once a week is better for lawns than semimonthly sprinkling, said Marina D'Abreau, an urban horticulture specialist from the Hillsborough County Extension Service.
"Because of our sandy soils, the grass' roots can only take up so much water at a time," she said.
Some grasses, such as St. Augustine, will suffer regardless, D'Abreau said. But other types of lawns and plants have a higher chance of survival if they're watered weekly, she said.
"From the horticulturist perspective, hand-watering would be the better option," she said.
Council member Linda Saul-Sena knows tighter watering restrictions will be unpopular.
"Nobody wants to see their lawn turn brown," she said. "But if it's a choice between your lawn turning brown and no water coming out of your spigot to drink, then I vote for the spigot."
Times staff writers Bill Varian, Robbyn Mitchell and Emily Nipps contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.