TAMPA — Tampa and Hillsborough County are looking to partner with Tampa Electric Co. and Mosaic Fertilizer on a $180-million project to ship reclaimed water to Polk County.
The system would take water from city and county wastewater treatment plants to reservoirs owned by Mosaic, where it would be stored and then sold to customers, including Tampa Electric. The company needs the water for new power facilities in Polk County.
"This is a regional partnership to look at how we can best use our reclaimed water," said Bart Weiss, director of Hillsborough's water management program.
But Tampa Bay Water, which provides drinking water to Tampa, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, has called the plan bad public policy.
Tampa Bay Water officials say they would rather see the reclaimed water remain in their service area to reduce the use of potable water for things like lawn watering and industry.
Tampa Bay Water has known about the pending deal for months and lobbied against it.
Last year, Tampa Bay Water chairman Susan Latvala wrote to a member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, warning that the proposal will have a "significant and long-lasting impact on our current and future water supplies." The Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, has been asked to help pay for the system.
Michelle Biddle Rapp, a spokeswoman for Tampa Bay Water, says the utility is still waiting to be included in discussions about the project.
Dave Moore, executive director of Swiftmud, says that even if the project comes to fruition, there should still be plenty of reclaimed water left for Tampa Bay Water's service area. Future phases of the project call for distributing reclaimed water in the northwest part of Hillsborough County.
Early phases, to be completed by 2015, would deliver 12-million gallons of reclaimed water a day to Tampa Electric for its Polk County operations. Hillsborough County would supply reclaimed water not being used by its current customers in the south part of the county, which would amount to about 6-million gallons a day.
The city of Tampa would supply the other 6-million gallons a day to Tampa Electric.
Another 20-million gallons of Tampa's water would be used to recharge the aquifer.
Every day, the city of Tampa dumps more than 50-million gallons of treated wastewater into Tampa Bay, and for years has been working on a way to put that water to use.
Several years ago, the city installed pipes to take the reclaimed water to homeowners in south Tampa for lawn watering, but the system has been plagued with problems and uses only a fraction of the water available.
Plans call for expanding that south Tampa system and taking it to large water users, such as Tampa International Airport and a proposed ethanol plant at the Port of Tampa. City officials also want to use reclaimed water for irrigation on Bayshore Boulevard and in a downtown park.
Moore said Tampa should be able to provide water to those projects and still serve Tampa Electric.
"We think the project has great potential, but there's a lot of issues to work through," he said.
One of those is how to pay for it.
"Tax reform has hit everybody including us, and there's a lot of competition for the funds," Moore said.
Moore said Water Partners Inc., a not-for-profit group that would build and manage the system, has asked Swiftmud to pay for half the project. Water Partners Inc. would issue bonds to cover the rest of the cost, and Tampa Electric would pay back the loan through water purchase, he said.
But Weiss said all the partners involved and potential future partners, including Polk County, Lakeland and other industrial users, could help pay the cost.
The Tampa City Council on Thursday was scheduled to vote on a memorandum of understanding so city officials could work out details — including how much to charge for the reclaimed water — with Hillsborough County, Mosaic and Tampa Electric. Members postponed the vote until next week.
Council member Mary Mulhern asked for the delay, saying she wants more information.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.