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    Swiftmud backs off metering of reclaimed water

    By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 2, 2002

    TAMPA -- A few weeks ago, Hillsborough County officials were flabbergasted to hear about a set of water conservation proposals from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

    The district was considering a proposal that would have required counties to install individual meters on all existing reclaimed water users. In addition, irrigation would have been limited to two times a week.

    County officials said the proposal collided with Hillsborough's promise to homeowners: Pay thousands to install the lines and water as you wish.

    But homeowners received good news this week. Members of Swiftmud's governing board took the plan off their list of water conservation proposals for the coming year.

    Commissioner Jim Norman, whose district includes many of the neighborhoods with reclaimed water, credited the governor's office for putting pressure on Swiftmud. The commission sent a strongly worded letter to Swiftmud governing board Chairman Ronnie Duncan and Norman said he spoke with Gov. Jeb Bush 's deputy chief of staff, Denver Stutler Jr.

    "From my perspective, we have no problem with future metering," Norman said. "But to go back ... it would have been a huge hit on Hillsborough County."

    But Duncan and others warned that water managers have not abandoned the idea.

    Reclaimed water is rapidly gaining as much value as fresh water in efforts to combat ongoing shortages in fast-growing, drought-stricken Florida, they said. The district says people waste reclaimed water. Board members want to see what water conservation measures are adopted by the legislature before acting, Duncan said.

    Currently, Hillsborough has 9,800 homeowners using reclaimed water. Another 6,200 have signed up with the guarantee they could water to their heart's content.

    Installing the meters would have cost Hillsborough $12-million, say county officials. They also cited other hidden costs.

    The policy change would have affected the district's other 15 counties, but board member Monroe "Al" Coogler said the loudest protests came from Hillsborough. District and state officials suggested metering reclaimed water was inevitable, and that aid might be available to ease the burden.

    Dropping the proposal for now gives the district more time to speak with residents and local officials, Coogler said.

    "I think everybody realizes ... eventually, somewhere down the line, reuse water is going to be a valuable as potable water and we're going to have to have a judicious use of it," he said.

    -- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com.

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