TAMPA — The Tampa City Council voted today to lift a ban on lawn sprinkling, the toughest watering restrictions in Florida.
But don't turn on those sprinklers yet: The ban officially ends Monday. After that, watering will be allowed one day a week.
The council acted on a recommendation by Mayor Pam Iorio, who said recent heavy rains raised water levels in the Hillsborough River, the city's main drinking water source.
The vote was 5-2, with Charlie Miranda and Mary Mulhern urging their council colleagues to stick with the ban.
"A three-year drought is not solved by two weeks of rain,'' Mulhern said. Tampa Bay has a long-term water supply and distribution problem, Mulhern said, and everyone she talked to urged her to keep the ban in place.
It's been inspiring to hear so much support for the ban, Mulhern said, because it suggests residents are looking at the big picture, not their personal concerns. "For us to change our minds today makes their sacrifice not valued,'' she added.
Miranda said the City Council's back and forth discussion about lifting the ban in recent weeks has weakened its credibility.
When the ban was imposed April 5, the Hillsborough river and the city reservoir were dangerously low. Only 21 million gallons a day were flowing in the river, and the reservoir water level was 18 feet.
Now, after nearly a foot of rain fell in the past two weeks, the reservoir is at 21.8 feet and 213 million gallons a day is flowing in the river.
The ban saved 500 million gallons of water.
Despite the success of the ban, the Tampa Bay area remains in the midst of a three-year drought and residents still are being asked to conserve water.
Starting Monday, Tampa residents and businesses will be subject to emergency watering restrictions imposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which lawn sprinkling once a week from midnight to 4 a.m.
The ban has been a contentious issue on the council. Council member John Dingfelder was the leading opponent from the start, tried to lift is several times without success. He tried again last week, but the council voted 4-3 to keep the restrictions in place but left open revisiting the ban under recommendations from Iorio. She also opposed lifting the ban, but changed her mind after levels rose in the river and reservoir.
Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the water management district, said river and aquifer levels throughout the Tampa Bay area have returned to normal levels for this time of year, thanks to the rain. But lake levels still are low, she said.
"We have seen some very good improvement in the water resources," Felix said. "But we still have an overall shortage in the Tampa Bay water system."