Tampa renews focus on reclaimed water

05/16/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Last month, an agreement that would have the city of Tampa enter into an agreement with Swiftmud to sell reclaimed water to Polk County was nearly approved without any discussion at the Tampa City Council.

The deal includes Hillsborough County, Tampa Electric and Mosaic Fertilizer, and would be facilitated by a private non-profit called Water Partners.

But earlier this week, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio pulled back from the deal. The mayor said she’s still interested, but wants to use the city’s 55 million gallons of wastewater that is currently dumped into Tampa Bay every day as reclaimed water for Tampa citizens.

The issue was placed on the City Council’s Consent Agenda three weeks ago, which means it would be approved without any public discussion. But Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said the item stood out to her, and she said she wasn’t ready to vote on it just yet.

But City Councilman Charlie Miranda says the Memorandum of Understanding to enter into negotiations with Water Partners was not a huge deal since it set no terms. Miranda says the plan with Water Partners for using reclaimed water began with Mosaic Fertilzer and Hillsborough County, and was never a top priority with the city.

On Monday, Iorio announced plans to accelerate the completion of a 20-year plan to expand the reliance on reclaimed water, including possibly building a small wastewater plant in New Tampa to eliminate the need to build a pipeline to the area.

But when the issue came before the Council last month, the Iorio administration was adamant that it needed to be approved as soon as possible. Mulhern said she’s excited by the mayor’s focus on using the majority of the city’s reclaimed water product inside the city.

When the Council voted, there were several bills in the Florida Legislature regarding reclaimed water, with just days before the session was to end. The St. Petersburg Times8 reports that the only bill that passed regards the state’s department of Environmental Protection to make recommendations about reclaimed water before next year’s session.

The Iorio administration and Council members have discussed expanding the city’s reclaimed water program, called STAR, which has been viewed as somewhat of a bust. That’s because it only had 3,000 customers; some analysts attribute that to the expensive startup costs for the program. But Miranda says that’s an unfair charge.

Mulhern says it’s not just about the commodity and scarcity of water, it’s about the costs.

WMNF attempted to speak with the head of the Water Department in Tampa, Brad Baird, but he was not available for comment.

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