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Rationing may hit
recycled water

St. Petersburg will discuss an emergency proposal to limit watering with the highly treated wastewater.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Carolyn Bond remembers making the city's pitch to her neighbors in the mid 1980s: Hook up to the reclaimed water system and you'll be able to water your lawn during a drought, when irrigating with drinkable water is banned.

"That was part of our sell," said Bond, who remembers that the city would not install a line for the highly treated wastewater unless most of the neighbors agreed to pay about $300 to hook up.

Fifteen years and two major droughts later, Mayor David Fischer's staff is proposing to modify that deal. The city has determined that the system may be taxed to the breaking point if the recycled water is not rationed, with each user restricted to two days a week.

The City Council will discuss the emergency proposal on March 30, but some council members already seem skeptical.

"The contract is you pay X amount of dollars and you tap into it and you have unlimited use," said council member Bill Foster, a reclaimed water customer himself. "There has to be a compelling reason to me for the city to try to undo the deal."

City records show that in the five days before Fischer's staff recommended restrictions on reclaimed water, the city's treatment plants produced far more treated wastewater than customers needed. Plant operators flushed 35 percent of their output -- some 63-million gallons -- into deep injection wells.

That would have been enough to supply the city's 10,000 reclaimed-water customers for about two days. Because of how the system is set up, not all the water could be distributed for irrigation, officials insist.

Because the city has limited storage, water has to be thrown away during the day, when the plants are busiest. At night, when demand is high, the sewers are used less.

Council member Larry Williams said he wonders whether there is really a shortage.

"I would try and pin down (Utilities Director Bill Johnson) very heavily; in fact, are things as bad as they seem?" Williams said, adding that he is inclined to vote against the cutback. "That raises my eyebrows."

Fischer's staff also proposes cutting sprinkling with drinkable water down to one day a week from two. That follows the lead of Tampa, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties. The proposal would not cut back private well users from the current two days a week.

On Wednesday, it was the added proposal to trim reclaimed water use that seemed to cause the most consternation.

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