TAMPA — Relief may be on the way for people watching their lawns wither due to the lawn sprinkling ban.
The City Council voted Thursday to reconsider the ban in two weeks and allow sprinkling every other week.
Tampa's sprinkling ban took effect April 3.
Council member Mary Mulhern, who had been a strong proponent of the ban, suggested modifying it after hearing that the city might ultimately have to pay to replace greenery in Tampa parks lost because of lack of water.
"It is just getting drier and drier," she said. "People deserve to at least have us look at that in another two weeks."
The measure passed by a 4-3 vote, with council members Charlie Miranda, Tom Scott and Gwen Miller voting against it.
The vote came after Miranda pressed the board to stick with the restrictions.
"I don't know why we flip-flopped. We should be at McDonald's flipping and flopping burgers," he said. "What's more important? A lawn or water to drink?"
Water Department director Brad Baird also urged the council to stick with the restrictions. "It's working, however painful," he said.
Since the restrictions went into place, the city is saving about 20 million gallons of water a day on watering days, Baird said.
He also said the water level in the reservoir on the Hillsborough River, where the city gets most of its drinkable water, has remained steady at about 6 inches above the level it dropped to during the 2000 drought and a foot above the minimum level required to make it through the dry season.
"A foot above the line is good insurance," he said. "But I would recommend not enough to change the restrictions we have in place."
Daily river flows are still at record lows, he said.
The region is in the midst of a three-year drought, exacerbated by the cyclical spring dry season.
The good news, Baird said, is that since the restrictions went into place four weeks ago, more than 400 people have signed up to connect into the city's reclaimed water system. That's more than have signed up in the past two years.
Council member Joseph Caetano said he didn't want to wait to ease the sprinkling ban.
"Two weeks may be too late," he said. "People are irate, and it's not fair."
He suggested lifting the ban today, but that measure failed, with only John Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena supporting it.
As state and regional water officials struggle to control consumption, talk of imposing a drought surcharge on big users has gained traction.
Developer Don Phillips bashed the idea, telling the City Council that it was a mistake to punish the wealthiest residents, whose philanthropic activities benefit Lowry Park Zoo, educational institutions and museums.
He specifically named RV executive Don Wallace; the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
He suggested asking these successful businessmen to help develop solutions to the water crisis. "We owe them more than incremental amounts of water," Phillips said. "If you have a couple million dollars and a generous wallet, the entire world beckons."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.