Reclaimed water may go to Pasco
By MELIA BOWIE and BILL COATS
TAMPA -- Reclaimed water has become a hot commodity.
The city has it, Pasco wants it and Hillsborough County may be left out of the loop.
For years, the treated wastewater that can be used to irrigate parched lawns has gone to waste in Hillsborough Bay.
An average of 60-million gallons a day is pumped into the bay because Tampa has no way to distribute it or customers to use it, said City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda.
Now, with construction of reclaimed water lines under way in South Tampa, the city is looking to raise another $47.5-million to extend a line to New Tampa.
Enter Pasco County. In return for 10-million gallons of reclaimed water per day, Pasco is willing to pay $10-million to help fund the line through New Tampa, said city officials.
Miranda said he approached Hillsborough County first about buying the water, but city and county officials were unable to agree on a fair price.
Pat Frank, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Commission, agreed.
"Price has been one of the issues," she said.
Another factor has been the county's hesitation to fund a line without guaranteed delivery of the water.
"We wouldn't give money to lay a line and years later find out that (the city) is going to use the water elsewhere," she said.
Hillsborough desperately needs the reclaimed water Tampa can supply if it is to avoid shortages in the coming years, Frank said.
But right now, she said, "it seems (Tampa's) moving in another direction entirely. For whatever reason, I think they're much more eager to go up in Pasco County. I don't understand it."
Pasco's appeal has much to do with its willingness to comply with the city's terms, Tampa officials said.
Pasco is willing to "meter the reclaimed water, price it in a like manner and they will go back and meter about 4,200 accounts they already have on reclaimed water," Miranda said.
A tentative deadline of August has been set to arrange the conditions of the deal, said Doug Bramlett, assistant county administrator for Pasco.
"We needed a partner," Miranda said. "And we found a partner who is willing to agree to the terms we use in the city of Tampa."
No one living within city boundaries currently receives reclaimed water. But that will change in a few years now that more than $24-million in city and federal funds have been allocated to construct a water line for South Tampa.
But with New Tampa's growth projected to account for a third of the city's total population in 10 years, a northern line has to be built, council members said. The estimated cost is $47.5-million.
Hillsborough officials initially offered the city 7 cents per thousand gallons. Then it offered 11 cents. About seven or eight months ago, they upped the offer to 25 cents per thousand gallons, Miranda said.
"Well, if it was only 7 cents before, why is it 25 cents now?" Miranda asked. "We said we don't think so. It's just not a fair price."
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is expected to kick in about $22-million for the New Tampa project. Along with Pasco's anticipated $10-million and possible federal funds, the water line along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard could be built.
But a distribution system would still need to be paid for, Miranda said.
"The people who use it would pay for it," he said.
That's not a problem, say some New Tampa residents.
"If it means more reclaimed water is used and less drinking water is used for landscaping, then I'm all for it," said Al Frick of Hunter's Green.
If a deal with Pasco is finalized, the earliest the reclaimed water line could be built would be 2007, city officials said.
But "I'm feeling confident this will work," Miranda said. "Even if Hillsborough County gets zero on reclaimed water, they're still going to benefit. This is a win for us all."
-- Staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.
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