Tampa City Council to have voters weigh in on drinking treated wastewater

06/23/09 Mitch E. Perry
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The Tampa City Council today voted to put on the 2010 ballot a measure that would put in motion the process to treat reclaimed water for drinking.

The process is known as groundwater replenishment, or reverse osmosis, where wastewater can be treated into the ground and then processed to become suitable for human consumption.

City Council member Charlie Miranda is a strong supporter of the concept. He attempted to allay any squeamish concerns by comparing the process to where the City gets much of its water currently, the Hillsborough River.

The issue came up during a Council workshop about how to expand the city’s reclaimed water program. Currently, the city wastes 55 million gallons of the resource daily, with less than 4,000 households using the service for irrigation purposes.

Miranda called reclaimed the last low lying fruit possible in an area increasingly contending with droughts.

The issue of treating wastewater into drinkable water is controversial. City Councilman John Dingfelder, not present at today’s workshop, has spoken out loudly against the idea.

Reverse osmosis is not part of the $340 million plan that the Pam Iorio administration had set out to speak about on Tuesday.

Water Department Director Brad Baird told Council members that the costs of a new plan troubled him slightly.

Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena asked Baird that wouldn’t the costs overall.

Saul-Sena then suggested that approval of the issue should be up to Tampa citizens.

Earlier, the city’s Administrator of Public Works & Utility Services, Steve Dagnault, presented proposals that the City hopes to do in terms of dealing with reclaimed and the use of potable water in the city, including a rate hike on heavy water users.

Charging higher rates for heavier consumers received some skepticism from some council members, but upon learning that ‘heavy water’ users only represent 1% of the Tampa population, Councilwoman Mary Mulhern to suggest that the water rates should be raised for everybody in the city.

Dagnault also brought up the issue of how the City would be able to raise money for an expansion of reclaimed water, which currently to less than 4,000 people in South Tampa.

City officials have also been negotiating to get some of the city’s biggest water customers, like Tampa International Airport, on to reclaimed.

There is also the possibility of expanding reclaimed into South Pasco County.

Gardener John Starnes said that 67 trees are salt sensitive, and that the problem is the chemicals coming from reclaimed water.

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