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Tampa may hike rates for biggest water users

Don Wallace’s home at 1801 Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa. His water and sewage bill last month was $3,125.52 for lawn and home.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

Don Wallace’s home at 1801 Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa. His water and sewage bill last month was $3,125.52 for lawn and home.

TAMPA — Tampa's biggest water users may get slapped with hefty surcharges, and those who live near reclaimed-water lines could be forced to pay extra fees or connect to the system.

The surcharges and mandatory connections were discussed Thursday by the Tampa City Council. No official action was taken, but both topics will be revisited at a workshop May 28.

Dave Moore, executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, urged council members to strongly consider the surcharge during droughts.

Such fees in some parts of the western United States are as high as 50 to 100 percent, Moore said.

It's not uncommon, he noted, for 2 percent of water users to consume 10 to 15 percent of a utility's supply.

Typical homeowners use about 90,000 gallons of water a year.

The St. Petersburg Times reported last month that some Tampa homeowners, including RV king Don Wallace, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer, used more than 1 million gallons last year.

Although Moore suggested imposing a big-user fee only during droughts, a year-round rate hike for the biggest water consumers is possible, said Steve Daignault, the city's utilities administrator.

For the roughly 8,700 customers who live near existing reclaimed-water lines, connections may become mandatory. Only about 3,100 customers have connected to reclaimed water system.

Other cities do much better than Tampa with their programs, Moore said.

"Reclaimed water is an extraordinarily valuable resource," he said.

New Port Richey requires connection to reclaimed-water lines. In St. Petersburg, anyone who lives near a line pays a monthly fee even if not connected.

It's frustrating. Moore said, that millions of dollars were spent on Tampa's reclaimed-water system and few people use it.

Council member John Dingfelder tried to get the board to vote in favor of drafting ordinances to make reclaimed-water connections mandatory and impose "harsh penalties" on major water users.

"We have to take the voluntary out of it," Dingfelder said of the reclaimed-water connections. With another drought likely next year, he said, "This council needs to make a statement today that this is our policy."

But that proposal died for lack of a second. Council members said they would rather wait until May to hear Daignault's analysis of the policy.

Connections can cost anywhere from $15 for someone who already has a reclaimed water meter and personally installs the link to the distribution pipes, to more than $800 for someone who needs a meter and pays a plumber or irrigation company to do the work.

Dingfelder's move to penalize big water users resulted in a tie vote. Council rules require another vote during the board's next regular meeting.

Council member Charlie Miranda laughed as Dingfelder made both motions.

Miranda said he was "amused" that Dingfelder suddenly felt the need to be aggressive about water conservation when Dingfelder spent weeks vigorously opposing Tampa's lawn sprinkling ban.

Dingfelder is running for county commissioner and Miranda has said he may seek the same seat.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa may hike rates for biggest water users 04/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 12:03am]

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