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Reclaimed water soon will be flowing

The city begins construction on a system to bring recycled sewer water to 4,200 homes and businesses.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 17, 2002


TAMPA -- Faced with ugly brown yards and tight water restrictions, homeowners can take comfort knowing the future looks a bit greener.

Less than two years from now, parts of South Tampa will have reclaimed water to irrigate their lawns and preserve the area's dwindling water supply.

Many homeowners say the sooner, the better.

"It's not just about our yards looking good, it's about being responsible citizens," said Laura Darrow Frost, a 15-year Hyde Park resident who xeriscaped her yard and waters her plants by hand.

After more than a decade of debating, planning and designing, the city of Tampa has started construction on a project to deliver recycled sewer water to more than 4,200 homes and businesses.

Officials say the South Tampa Area Reclaimed project, known as STAR, is the first pay-as-you-use reclaimed water project in the state, possibly the country. During the dry season, it will save more than 2-million gallons of drinking water a day, enough to fill 133 swimming pools.

"Environmentally, it's the right thing to do," said Ron Rotella, consultant to Mayor Dick Greco and head of the Westshore Alliance, a local business group that spearheaded the project.

Crews started installing the main pipeline Wednesday, at Lois and Dale avenues in Beach Park.

The 7-mile pipeline will go from the city's wastewater treatment plant on Hooker's Point to Davis Islands and heavily irrigated neighborhoods to the west, such as Hyde Park and Beach Park. It will run along several streets near Kennedy Boulevard.

Laying the 16- to 36-inch line will involve digging up the streets and building a trench. Motorists should expect detours.

Installation of the main pipe will take about 14 months. Work on the smaller, neighborhood lines will start by late fall. To avoid tearing up driveways and local streets, workers will dig small holes and push the pipes through. Each city block should take a few days.

In all, the project will cost about $28-million, including $12-million in federal funds and $600,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud. The rest will come from user fees.

The city will charge customers $1.34 for every 748 gallons of reclaimed water. Drinking water costs between $1.04 and $3.12 for the same amount, with lower water users paying less and higher users paying more.

People who signed up for the program before September 2000 will get credited their $50 deposit, plus interest, on their first bill until the amount is spent.

People who still want to register can pay a $350 meter fee.

Officials expect water to start flowing by late next year. Unlike current once-a-week watering restrictions, customers can turn on the spigot as often as they want.

The city began studying reclaimed water several years ago at the urging of the Westshore Alliance. Water costs had gone up for high users, while drinking water supplies had declined. Business leaders agreed reclaimed water made sense economically and environmentally.

So did neighborhood groups.

"The minute I heard about it, I wanted it," said Margaret Vizzi, a longtime Beach Park resident who helped area homeowner associations get involved. "It's going to make our lawns greener than they are now."

The city put the project on hold while Sandy Freedman was mayor. She didn't think it was fair for some areas to get the water, but not others, Vizzi said.

The project was revived under Greco's administration under the conditions that it would be voluntary and self-supporting. During a four-month campaign to gauge interest, 4,200 of 7,800 potential customers signed up.

Given the demand, the city plans to expand the project to the north and south of the existing boundaries. It also wants to build a line to fast-growing New Tampa.

Although new to Tampa, reclaimed water is widely used throughout the region. Swiftmud, which oversees a 16-county region, has nearly 33,000 residents irrigating with the recycled water. Hillsborough County has 7,000 in the unincorporated areas and many on a waiting list. St. Petersburg, one of the pioneers, has 10,000. Generally, communities have paid a flat rate to use as much water as they want.

Brad Baird, deputy director of Tampa's Department of Sanitary Sewers, said the STAR project stands out because customers will pay only for what they use. The reclaimed water also is cleaner than average treated sewer water because it's normally discharged into Tampa Bay.

"This project is treating it as the valuable resource that it is," he said. "It's a big change in attitude."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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