Tampa Wants To Give Away Reclaimed Water To Save Lawns
March 24, 2009
City officials are considering a novel approach to get more reclaimed water onto parched lawns in the drought-plagued Tampa Bay area: give it away.
They are contacting landscapers and utility contractors to determine whether it's feasible to fill watering trucks with reclaimed water that, in turn, would be sprayed onto lawns.
"These are trying times," said Brad Baird, director of Tampa Water Department. "This will give residents who can't hook up to the system the option of getting reclaimed water."
Whether the city finds any takers remains to be seen.
One landscaping contractor said such a move would be cost-prohibitive for consumers.
"It's going to be a hell of lot more expensive than turning on the tap," said Shea Hughes president of Sunrise Landscaping. "You're talking a lot of labor, equipment and time."
City officials say the demand for reclaimed water from residential customers has risen dramatically since last week, when the city council approved new watering restrictions aimed at conserving the region's drinking water supplies amid a three-year drought.
The new rules, the toughest in the state, go into effect April 3 and will allow only hand-watering of lawns one day a week. Reclaimed water users are exempt from the rules, which will remain in effect for next several months, or until the rainy season begins.
But because Tampa's reclaimed water system is limited to a few thousand residents in the South Tampa area, city officials haven't been able to meet the growing demand.
Currently, the system has a capacity to serve only 8,700 residents in Hyde Park, Davis Islands and Beach Park. Of that number, 3,100 residents are hooked up to the system. For those who can be served but are not hooked up, it can take up to six weeks to get service after paying the hook-up fee.
Plans to expand distribution lines to other neighborhoods are years away.
Under the idea being floated, contractors would have to be licensed and have water trucks that are capable of holding at least 1,000 gallons. They would also need to be trained to use one of the city's reclaimed water filling stations in South Tampa, where they would load up.
"You can't just pull up a truck and start filling," said Sandra Anderson, deputy director of the water department. "You'll need to have the right sized water trucks and equipment."
Individual homeowners would not be permitted to fill barrels or other containers.
Baird said he didn't know how much contactors would charge customers for the reclaimed water, but said the city won't regulate prices.
"Ultimately, it will be up to the customer to get quotes from other contractors to make sure they're not overcharged," he said. "We're going to let the market self-regulate."
Contractors are currently charged 80 cents for every 1,000 gallons of reclaimed water at the city's Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.
By comparison, customers on the city's reclaimed system pay a $375 hook-up fee that includes a special meter. They are charged about $1.20 for each unit, or 748 gallons. A typical home irrigation system uses in excess of 2,000 gallons for one cycle and can have as many as five cycles in a single yard.
The city's water department has a few dozen reclaimed water trucks in its fleet, but most are kept busy watering city parks, flower beds and roadside medians.
The companies would not be limited to finding customers inside the city limits.
Like most cities, Tampa generates more reclaimed water than it uses. The excess, roughly 55 million gallons a day, gets dumped in Tampa Bay.
Both the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County are under pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection to stop dumping unused treated wastewater into waterways.
Even though the water is highly treated, it still contains high levels of nitrogen that can rob natural water bodies of oxygen needed by fish, shellfish and other marine life.
Councilman Charlie Miranda, who often speaks about water conservation, supports the give away initiative and hopes the city can find enough local contractors to participate.
"We're facing record water shortages and we're dumping millions of gallons of reclaimed water in the Bay," Miranda said. "We need to be putting this water to use, not wasting it."
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