Wastewater reuse no California dreaming
February 18, 2010
It's too bad only Charlie Miranda and Linda Saul-Sena of the Tampa City Council attended a workshop on wastewater reuse at the University of South Florida Monday night.
Miranda already is a proponent of augmenting the city's water supply with some of the 55 million gallons of highly treated wastewater the city now dumps into Tampa Bay each day. Most other council members have been repulsed by this "toilet-to-tap" scheme. Saul-Sena, at least, is trying to learn more.
And there was much to be learned at USF, especially from Mehul Patel, a manager for the Orange County Water District in California. He told how his arid county generates 70 million gallons of clean water a day - enough to meet the needs of 500,000 people - by filtering wastewater.
The Hillsborough River usually provides the bulk of Tampa's water, but levels became so low during last year's drought the city had to ban lawn irrigation.
If Tampa recycled some of its wastewater into potable water - Miranda envisions a plant producing 25 million gallons each day - such water shortages could be avoided.
So would some big expenses. The city paid $9 million last year to Tampa Bay Water, the regional water utility, for water last year. Over the last five years, the city has paid an average of nearly $6 million a year for extra water.
Moreover, as Miranda has continually warned, if the city does not make use of that water, it could end up losing control of it. Some lawmakers are interested in piping the water to Polk County.
Council members worried about the health effects should have heard Patel, who says continued, rigorous testing of its treated wastewater finds the levels of chemicals and other harmful materials, including pharmaceuticals, are undetectable.
Wastewater piped into the Orange County plant already has received standard wastewater treatment, which renders it clean enough to be used for irrigation. The water undergoes another three treatments - microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light. It then is either injected into the aquifer or to recharge basins.
Another speaker, Anthony Andrade of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, detailed research that showed treated wastewater was as safe as groundwater or surface water.
Patel says the system uses half the energy required to pipe water from Northern California, and prices are competitive with other sources. He reminds those who can't get beyond the yuck factor that wastewater plants around the nation discharge water into waterways that are used for drinking water by downstream communities.
Miranda is pushing to have city voters decide in a referendum next year whether to pursue a wastewater-to-drinking-water plant. So far, Mayor Pam Iorio and Miranda's council colleagues have been reluctant.
But they should see that the city cannot continue to simply throw away an increasingly scarce resource. And as Holly Greening of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program points out, the discharge adds about 200 tons of harmful nutrients to the bay each year.
Orange County residents embraced wastewater reuse though other, equally water-deprived communities in California had rejected it. Patel detailed some of the reasons why: An outreach program held hundreds of public meetings, where citizens' questions were answered; an independent scientific review panel scrutinized every facet of the project; and local politicians and community leaders were thoroughly committed to make reuse happen.
Miranda has that commitment. But he will need a lot more help from the mayor and council if Tampa is to tap this readily available water supply.
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