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Water idea leaves some cold

The city's desire to sell reclaimed water to Pasco County ruffles feathers among Hillsborough officials, who have wanted a share of the 60-million gallons dumped every day.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 6, 2002

TAMPA -- The announcement last week that the city of Tampa is hoping to sell treated wastewater to Pasco County has left Hillsborough Commissioner Chris Hart thirsty for answers.

Hart, who is running for Tampa mayor, said the county has been seeking dibs on Tampa's unused reclaimed water for more than a year. Now the county is feeling spurned.

During a news conference Wednesday, Hart called for a meeting between top Tampa and Hillsborough officials to figure out the rub. Then he agreed to be the board's point person in any negotiations after a subsequent commission discussion.

"I would hope we would take a regional view that recognizes our interdependence," Hart said.

Commissioners asked that Hart and County Administrator Dan Kleman seek a meeting with Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who is also running for mayor.

Miranda has played the lead negotiator in past discussions with the county and in the recent sales talks with Pasco. And he said he is not inclined to participate in any more meetings after two years of getting the runaround by the county.

"They just talk and talk," Miranda said. "Over here we don't need to look at the roses and look at the moon. I don't want to be engaged my whole life without getting married."

Hillsborough Water Department Director Mike McWeeny agreed there have been several discussions between city and county officials. But he said it has been the county that has been getting the cold shoulder.

"We've asked how much is available and what do you want for it?" McWeeny said. "The city of Tampa has never given me or my staff an answer to any of those questions."

Miranda said that there have been detailed discussions at the top levels of both governments. He said Hillsborough County has proposed buying reclaimed city water for as little as 7 cents and as much as 25 cents per 1,000 gallons. He said the low-ball figures betray how serious the county has taken the discussions.

And while those talks have taken place, he said, the county has lobbied the Legislature and Tampa Bay Water, the regional water utility, to intervene on its behalf.

"I'm not going to make water a political issue," Miranda said.

The tit-for-tat was spawned by reports last week that the city was negotiating with Pasco County to sell 10-million gallons a day of its unused reclaimed water. In exchange, Pasco would contribute $10-million toward installation of a water line between downtown and New Tampa.

County officials have repeatedly criticized the city for dumping an average of 60-million gallons of treated wastewater into Hillsborough Bay daily in the midst of the drought. The water can be used for irrigating lawns and golf courses, or by industrial companies in place of potable water.

Hart said the county has secured $485,000 in federal money for each of the next three years that could be used to link city reclaimed water with industry, freeing up potable drinking water for new homes.

City officials, meanwhile, don't think the county has been serious in its conservation efforts. For instance, Miranda said, 24 percent of the city's water customers live in unincorporated Hillsborough County but consume 37 percent of the water.

Coincidentally on Wednesday, Hillsborough commissioners voted down a staff recommendation to cut back on watering of newly sodded yards to 20 consecutive days from the 30 days allowed now. The city gives owners of newly planted lawns the same once-a-week watering restriction everyone else has, discouraging people from laying sod.

Hillsborough Commissioner Jan Platt was the only commissioner to vote for the watering cutback for new lawns and the only one who didn't support the meeting. She said only the county administrator and mayor should take part in any new meeting.

"Neither of them are running for anything," she said.

Commissioner Jim Norman laughed as he retorted that perhaps Hart and Miranda were right for the job.

"Maybe since they're both running for mayor they'll actually get something done," he said.

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