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Under pressure from environmentalists, water privatization proposal scrapped

TALLAHASSEE — Under pressure from environmentalists, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, scrapped a controversial proposal Wednesday to "privatize" the state's treated wastewater.

HB 639 as originally written would have changed the definition of "reclaimed water" to place ownership with local governments and utility companies, something Buckhorn was pushing for to help replenish Tampa's water supply.

Environmentalists objected, saying the resource would no longer belong to Florida citizens, but to governments and utility companies that may be tempted to sell to the highest bidder.

So instead Young pitched, and unanimously passed by committee, a version that forbids water management districts, which control water for the state, from forcing cities and utilities to give away water they pay to treat.

"It has been a tremendous amount of work to get this bill here, but it should be," she said, after environmentalists and fellow representatives praised her for negotiating. "We're creating water policy that will affect every person in the state for years to come."

"Kumbaya," said Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, highlighting the mood change from the last meeting, when opponents testified sharply against the bill.

Next stop, House floor.

Buckhorn said he hopes the bill will help Tampa face its chronic water shortages.

The city dumps 65 million gallons of water into Tampa Bay every day that could be used in place of potable water for things like irrigating agriculture, washing cars and watering lawns.

He's more likely to invest taxpayer dollars in treating that water if he knows Tampa won't be forced to give it away, he said.

"It's a compromise I can live with," he said. "We protect our ability to control the reclaimed water, and at the same time, (environmentalist) fears are relieved."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com.

Under pressure from environmentalists, water privatization proposal scrapped 02/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 11:26pm]
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