CLEARWATER — Coachman Ridge homeowners who have irrigation wells gathered at City Hall on Thursday night, asking the City Council to exempt them from paying a monthly fee for reclaimed water.
Council members turned them down, saying that everyone has to chip in to help protect the environment and the water supply. But they sweetened the deal a bit for the unhappy well owners, offering to let them skip two years of fees if they hook up to reclaimed water.
Clearwater will offer the same deal to hundreds of other well owners over the next few years as it extends reclaimed water lines into neighborhoods like Skycrest, Chautauqua, Glen Oaks, Palmetto and Clearwater Harbor.
"Look at the general good," said Council member Carlen Petersen. "It's selfish of us if we're going to use up all the water and there's nothing left for the future."
Coachman Ridge resident Larry Floyd and other well owners contended that it's unfair for the city to start charging them a monthly "availability fee" when reclaimed water lines reach their neighborhood. They told the council that they'd spent thousands of dollars to install their wells, and they'd also saved the city from pumping drinking water onto their yards.
But city officials said they must charge everyone who gets access to reclaimed water in order to pay the multimillion-dollar cost of installing the water lines. In fact, Clearwater residents who don't even have access to reclaimed water help subsidize the costs as well, through their water bills.
Officials said Clearwater's reclaimed water system has two purposes:
• Get people to use less potable water, which is pumped from the ground in Clearwater and from as far away as Pasco and Hernando counties.
• Discharge less wastewater into Tampa Bay and Stevenson Creek.
The reclaimed water fee is $17 a month but is expected to rise soon. Clearwater residents who have access to the system pay the fee whether they hook up to the water lines or not. Homeowners who actually use reclaimed water on their lawns pay an average of $5 more a month, depending on how much they use. The city used to exempt well owners from the fee, but it changed its policy last year.
"We have a three-tiered system for paying for the cost of getting rid of treated water," said Council member John Doran. "Now, I think that is a fair system. I think that is an equitable system."
Using statistics from the city's utility department, Doran calculated that about half the cost of the reclaimed water system is paid by everyone in Clearwater, whether they have access to reclaimed water or not.
The remaining half is paid entirely by people who have access to the service. Of that amount, half is paid by people who actually hook up to reclaimed water and use it, and the other half is paid by people who could use it but don't.
The city is offering well owners a deal — up to $600 to abandon their wells, free hookup to reclaimed water, and a $240 credit to cover their first year of monthly fees.
After well owners asked to avoid the fees entirely, Council member George Cretekos suggested a compromise — allowing well owners to skip a second year of fees if they hook up to reclaimed water.
The council voted unanimously for that plan.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.