OLDSMAR — The woman behind the podium cleared her throat and addressed the Oldsmar City Council: "I don't want that poop water in my yard."
Lee Street resident Kathy Widger, 67, came to the council meeting Tuesday to express her disgust for reclaimed water and her reluctance to start paying for access to it.
The City Council was considering final approval of an ordinance that would charge every home in the city a reclaimed water availability fee of $5.60 a month, even if reclaimed water lines had not yet been extended to their street.
About 44 percent of the city now has access to reclaimed water; two-thirds of that portion uses it. Soon, perhaps in the next five years, reclaimed water will be available to every home, officials say.
People arrived Tuesday night to protest the fee and, in some cases, even the use of reclaimed water, which is sewage effluent given advanced treatment and used to water lawns and wash cars.
"I'm handicapped enough in my life," said Widger, who wore a back brace. "I don't want to have to go out and use reclaimed water to water a lawn that I never water. I want out of this."
Widger and some of her neighbors have expressed concern in letters, emails and Facebook posts: If I don't use it — or can't use it — why should I pay for it? And will it hurt my dog?
Six spoke up, some passionately, during the meeting.
City officials say that reclaimed water, like drinking water, is a necessary community resource. If reclaimed water is available, residents don't have to use precious drinking water for irrigation. It puts to good use sewage effluent, which otherwise would be emptied into area streams and bays. And it can be used during droughts, when irrigating with drinking water often is restricted.
The monthly availability fee helps to sustain the service. While the availability fee would be mandatory, no one would be required to connect to the reclaimed water system or use the water.
"Could you answer the lady's question about the quality of the water?" Mayor Jim Ronecker asked Public Works Director Lisa Rhea, who sat in the audience. "Assure her it's not poop water?"
Rhea, a former science teacher, took the podium and began to debunk myths: Reclaimed water no longer contains fecal matter. It is highly treated, going through a filtration process, then a disinfection process. It won't hurt your dog, who has probably stuck his nose in worse things.
"By the end of it," she said, "if you were to take two glasses of water — your drinking water and your reclaimed water — and you were to test them at a lab — or just look at them — there's really no difference."
After some debate, the council voted to reduce the monthly service availability fee from $5.60 to $3.90, effective Jan. 1. Council members also decided to exclude Gull Aire Village, a retirement community of about 700 units, from paying the fee.
Residents of Gull Aire will not be able to access reclaimed water because the water line runs behind the homes, out of service range. And, council members said, the lots in Gull Aire are "the size of postage stamps," so residents have little need for reclaimed water for lawns.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.