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Fischer relaxes recycled water proposal

After an outpouring of protests, St. Petersburg's mayor suggests users can water their lawns three days a week.

Times coverage
Current watering rules
By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- After hearing from lots of reclaimed water users who believe the city is breaking its promise not to regulate their lawn sprinkling, Mayor David Fischer on Thursday moderated his proposal to ration the highly treated wastewater.

Fischer had said Tuesday that he would ask City Council to limit reclaimed water users to just two watering days per week during the severe drought. But on Thursday he decided to recommend that council members cut reclaimed water usage to three days per week.

That's still a huge change. Since the city began offering the service in 1976, homeowners have been encouraged to sprinkle their lawns and plants as many days as they like for a flat monthly fee of $10.36.

Fischer stuck by his contention that there is a shortage of reclaimed water, but after meeting with Public Utilities Director Bill Johnson, he said he will propose letting reclaimed water users water three days a week.

The city could do that and still maintain the minimum 60 pounds per square inch of water pressure, Fischer concluded.

"Three days a week is more than enough," Fischer said. "A horticulturist will say two days a week, 20 minutes per section. They will have more lawn than they can handle."

Tell that to William T. Jones, who sent an e-mail to City Hall on Thursday questioning how the city could suddenly change the terms for his use of reclaimed water after he laid out a big connection fee.

"I was shocked to hear that after spending over $1,000 (to be hooked up to) reclaimed water that this privilege may now be taken away," Jones wrote. "At the barber shop today, this was the the hot topic. What are you guys thinking?"

Resident Marvin L. Westerdahl e-mailed Fischer, objecting to the change on principal.

"The restriction of reclaimed water by the City poses some very interesting legal questions as the city certainly implies, if not expresses, the unlimited use of reclaimed water in current and past publications," he wrote.

But Fischer said allowing three days a week keeps the city's obligation not to "restrict the supply below a reasonable level."

Fischer does not propose restrictions on the city's commercial users of reclaimed water, such as golf courses. Written contracts specify that those users may water with reclaimed water every day, if they wish.

City Council member Jay Lasita said Thursday that some residential reclaimed water customers are losing perspective. They will still be able to maintain healthy lawns during the drought, he said.

Meanwhile, if the city follows the lead of the Pinellas County government as expected, residents in neighborhoods without reclaimed water pipes -- much of the city -- will have to nurse their lawns along with just a single day of watering with municipal water per week. Residents with private wells may get to keep the current two-day per week schedule.

"The residents who have (reclaimed service) are mostly residents of means," Lasita said. "The feedback that I get is that reclaimed water is a privilege for the well-off."

Fischer noted that he does not propose to ban car or boat washing or decorative fountains that use regular water, as some other Tampa Bay area governments have.

He also agreed with several City Council members who say the city must invest to expand its capacity to store reclaimed water and expand the service to neighborhoods that now lack it. With the limited tank capacity the city has now, the city flushes much of its treated wastewater down deep injection wells at times when its four treatment plants are producing the most.

That is typically during the day, when most people are pouring water down drains and during rainstorms, when rainwater seeps in through breaks and cracks in the city's aging sewer pipes. Peak demand, however, comes on dry days -- and at night, when many automatic sprinklers water lawns. Too much demand at once can cause the system pressure to drop. Fischer hopes assigning residential users to different watering days will even out the demand.

The City Council will have the final say on the proposed changes at a special meeting March 30. Until then, the old rules remain in effect.

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