Toilet water idea still is on tap

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, February 25, 2010

TAMPA — City Council member Charlie Miranda says the time is now to solve any future water-supply problems the city might face.

His suggestion: Use the city's treated wastewater to boost the supply. He wants to take the matter to voters with a referendum.

But at a workshop Thursday, he declined to ask for a vote on a referendum because Chairman Tom Scott was absent and he wants the whole council to vote on the question.

Tampa dumps 60 million gallons of treated wastewater into Tampa Bay every day. The water adds nutrients that harm sea grass and other wildlife. Federal officials will soon set a limit on how much nitrogen the city can add to the bay.

Miranda believes reusing the water will prevent shortages and keep Tampa in control of its water supply.

"In the future, water is going to be like oil — scarce and expensive," he said. "If you don't have your own production, you're going to be at the mercy of someone else, just like we're at the mercy of someone else for oil."

The wastewater, Miranda notes, is 99.9 percent pure because toilet water is only a tiny part of it. "This is not new. We did not invent this," he said, noting that Virginia, California and Texas use the technology.

Council member John Dingfelder remains unconvinced.

"I would rather take our toilet water and put it on our lawns than take our toilet water and put it in our taps," he said.

Tampa officials considered using reclaimed water to boost the aquifer from 1984 to 1998, Philip Waller, vice president of MWH Americas, told the council. Back then, a five-year study involving mice exposed the animals to 1,000 times more water than a human being would experience in a lifetime. All the experiments showed that the purified water was safe, he said.

Treatment techniques have since improved, using reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light to remove toxins, Waller said.

Mayor Pam Iorio has put forward a $340 million proposal to extend existing reclaimed water pipes for irrigation allowing Tampa Bay Water to use some of the water for aquifer recharge.

Janet Zink can be reached at or (813) 226-3401.

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