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    Low-flow rebate program touted

    Pinellas County Utilities wants to pay residents to install low-flow toilets to save water. The utilities director will run the plan by commissioners May 15.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    Pinellas County Utilities wants to start a $13.5-million rebate program that would pay Pinellas residents to switch their water-guzzling toilets for low-flow models.

    For their trouble, the county would pay $100 for the first toilet, about $60 for the second and $40 for each additional commode. The goal is to replace 93,000 3.5- to 7-gallon bowls with water friendly 1.6-gallon models.

    That would save a bunch of water, the county hopes, as much as 2-million gallons per day.

    Unlike other water conservation programs, toilet rebates provide a permanent fix, said Pick Talley, Pinellas County Utilities director.

    "Once you put in a toilet with a lower flow, as long as the toilet is in operation, it saves water," he said.

    Talley plans to propose the plan to county commissioners May 15. If the plan gets the thumbs up, it could be in place as early as June 1. The county is banking on about $4.2-million from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also called Swiftmud, for the program and tapping the utilities department's capital improvement fund for the rest.

    Swiftmud has contributed to such programs since the mid 90s, including those in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough County.

    Using low-flow toilets isn't new to Pinellas. The county installed 1,100 of them in six local low-income housing developments in 1999 and determined water use dipped. The county used what it learned to create its 2-million gallons per day water-savings estimate.

    The rebate program could chop in half the cost of buying and installing one of the toilets. Residents should investigate the reputation of the toilet manufacturer because some toilets work better than others, Talley said.

    With shallow wells, reclaimed water and toilet rebates in place, the county stands to see a 15 percent reduction in water use during the next five years, he said.

    For that reason alone, some commissioners support the idea.

    "It's a good way to reduce water use," said Commissioner Ken Welch. As for the cost, he said, "We're going to pay a higher price if we don't get water use down."

    Commissioner Susan Latvala concurred.

    Pinellas and other water utilities have been charged with finding alternative sources of water, which is an expensive proposition. So the county needs to focus on long-term solutions for water reduction.

    "We want to do everything we can to encourage citizens to do everything they can to reduce the water they use," she said.

    Smaller toilets can reduce water consumption by 25 to 35 gallons a day per a toilet, Swiftmud reports.

    "Any time we can make reductions like that," she said, "they are well worth the price tag."

    But Commissioner John Morroni was a bit more cautious.

    "I'm supportive of any type of conservation issue; but before I commit to a $13.5-million program, I want to see what we're going to be getting for $13.5-million."

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