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Reclaimed water cost may rise

The current flat monthly rate would be replaced by a fee based on use in Pasco.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002

MEADOW POINTE -- The days of dirt-cheap reclaimed water in Pasco County are numbered.

The deodorized byproduct of sewage treatment used for lawn irrigation, reclaimed water has been treated as an unlimited resource in central Pasco neighborhoods that include Meadow Pointe.

It's a free-guzzling attitude the county can no longer afford, Pasco's utility chief, Doug Bramlett, said Wednesday.

By late next year, Pasco plans to install reclaimed water meters at each home and charge per-1,000 gallon rates like it does for potable water. Homeowners now pay a flat rate of about $6.40 per month, although use is restricted to twice a week.

"We think there's an abuse of the system," Bramlett said. "At $6.40 a month, the guy doesn't care. He's going to irrigate and irrigate."

Bramlett wouldn't predict what reclaimed water rates will be once neighborhoods are metered. A rate study will determine that. But Tampa's reclaimed rate is 80 percent of the city's potable water rate, he said.

Bramlett raised the issue at Wednesday's meeting of the Pasco County Planning Commission, when some board members wondered how the county decides which neighborhoods receive reclaimed water.

When the county began supplying the water in the late 1980s, it could barely give it away. But what was once worthless sewage treatment plant effluent has turned into a precious commodity, particularly during the dry season. The county pipes reclaimed water to eight neighborhoods in central Pasco. The 5,000 customers can quickly exhaust the daily 1.5-million gallons produced.

The neighborhoods are Meadow Pointe, Northwood, the Lakes at Northwood, Brookside, Quail Hollow, Stagecoach Village, Sable Ridge and the golf course at Lexington Oaks.

Treatment plants in west Pasco produce a daily surplus of more than 1-million gallons of water. But the county can't share that water with central Pasco until a pipeline is finished next year.

Bramlett's deputy, Bruce Kennedy, said the county has contracted to supply reclaimed water to 10,000 future homes between Odessa and Zephyrhills, in neighborhoods such as Oakstead, Meadow Pointe III and Seven Oaks.

With such growing demand, the county must get more efficient: Homeowners can't use 700 gallons a day on their yards when 200 gallons would suffice, Kennedy said.

"Neighbors were told they could use as much as they want as often as they want," he said. "In hindsight, they shouldn't have been told that."

On a positive note, Pasco's supply could benefit from two other proposals.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District wants to create a regional reclaimed water network, letting Pasco tap excess water from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

And Pasco commissioners are close to approving a landscaping ordinance that mandates drought-resistant plants and smaller lawns at all future homes.

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