Tampa system for reclaimed water to grow

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, May 28, 2009

TAMPA — A $340 million plan to put the city's treated wastewater to good use took a tiny step forward on Thursday.

The City Council voted to start expanding the system that now makes reclaimed water available to about 8,700 users in South Tampa to another potential 9,000 customers in an area loosely bordered by Bayshore Boulevard, Ballast Point and North Hyde Park. The expansion, which could be completed in five years, also would take the water to big users such as the Tampa Sports Authority and International Plaza.

Other parts of the plan will be considered later, including:

• Requiring people who have access to reclaimed water to use it instead of potable water for lawn watering as of Dec. 1.

• Allowing Tampa Bay Water to take up to 20 million gallons of reclaimed water a day to Pasco County to recharge the aquifer.

• Requiring people with access to reclaimed water lines to pay a fee even if they don't use the water.

"I don't want to be the big daddy of big government and say you shall," Charlie Miranda said of the possibility that those who have access to reclaimed water would have to rely on it for irrigation.

Council member John Dingfelder said the Dec. 1 deadline is too soon to put the requirement in place. "We will freak people out too much," he said.

Council members also said they want to find a way to minimize the cost of connecting to the system, which can reach about $800, and possibly exempt people with established lawns who worry the treated water will harm such plants as azaleas and laurel oaks.

"It would be tough to require them to use reclaimed water that's going to kill their plants," Council member Mary Mulhern said.

Dingfelder raised questions about Tampa Bay Water's recharge plan. Studies have shown that even highly treated wastewater contains pharmaceutical residue, he said, and some people balk at having it drain back into drinking water supplies. "We need to be very cautious about this," he said.

Tampa Bay Water would help pay to build the system, which would offset the cost of taking reclaimed water to North Tampa by 2024. That may be appealing financially, Dingfelder said.

"It might not be appealing on a community level," he said.

The city currently dumps 55 million gallons of highly treated wastewater into Tampa Bay each day. The water contains pollutants that can harm marine life.

For more than 10 years, city leaders have struggled to find a way to use the water for irrigation and industry. Last year, Mayor Pam Iorio pledged to develop an aggressive, long-range reclaimed water plan. Thursday's recommendations are the product of a $140,000 study by consultants.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.


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