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Council refuses to limit use of reclaimed water

Council members reject a proposed ordinance that would have restricted users to three watering days a week.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council declined Thursday to move forward with an ordinance that would permanently limit users of reclaimed water to three irrigation days per week.

Instead, the council followed member and mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford's suggestion to refer the idea to its Policy and Planning subcommittee for study and a possible overhaul.

In the meantime, those connected to the reclaimed water system can use all they like for a flat $10.36 per month fee, as they have been able to do since the system was established.

Last spring and summer, users placed such a demand on the recycled wastewater system that the pressure dropped too low for anything but a trickle to come out of sprinkler heads. The council enacted an emergency three-day reclaimed watering limit that lasted one month last year.

But Ford has objected to permanently assigning reclaimed water customers three permitted watering days each week, saying the city committed to subscribers they would have unlimited use after paying a varying fee of several hundred dollars for the initial connection.

Ford asked Mayor David Fischer and his staff Thursday whether they had surveyed reclaimed water users to determine whether they would be willing to limit themselves to three watering days permanently.

"We had the ultimate survey last spring when people didn't have any water," Fischer responded. "We didn't have to call and say, "What day do you want to water?' People didn't have any water."

He added that the proposed ordinance was designed to keep that situation from recurring.

Council member Bill Foster said limiting usage during a crisis like last year's was fine. But he objected to permanent limits, because the reclaimed water system offers the city an environmentally friendly way to dispose of treated wastewater.

Whatever reclaimed water users do not spray on their lawns gets injected into disposal wells, which is worse for the environment.

"We're still injecting 20-million gallons a day into the deep wells," Foster said. He also said there was no reason for the council to rush the ordinance to approval because the reclaimed system has been operating fine.

At Ford's suggestion, the council also asked Fischer's staff Thursday to investigate possible ways the city could conserve more drinkable water in light of the current drought.

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