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Tampa council member hears support for getting drinking water from wastewater

TAMPA — As city officials debate using highly treated sewer water to supplement drinking water, experts gathered at the University of South Florida on Monday night to provide their take on the issue.

The concept is nothing new, said Mehul Patel, process manager for the Orange County Water District in California.

"In most cases it's unplanned," Patel said. "Wastewater typically goes into rivers in the United States. Those rivers are used for drinking water."

The Colorado River, he said, receives wastewater discharges at more than 200 locations before the water reaches kitchen taps in southern California.

Since 1975, Orange County has supplemented its supply with wastewater. It's filtered, treated with reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light and then either injected into the aquifer or sent to "recharge basins" where it seeps into the ground.

Regulators monitor it for caffeine, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and hormones.

The Orange County system supplies enough water for 500,000 people every year.

Since spring, Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda has been urging Tampa officials to follow the example. He wants to take the matter to voters with a referendum, most likely during city elections in March 2011.

Miranda was among about 75 people at the USF event.

Every day, Tampa dumps 55 million gallons of reclaimed water into Tampa Bay. That adds about 200 tons of nitrogen to the bay every year, harming wildlife.

A City Council workshop on reclaimed water is scheduled for Feb. 25. At a June workshop, the council voted to have city attorneys draft an ordinance that could be placed before voters. But at a second workshop in September, attorneys provided no such ordinance, and Mayor Pam Iorio has resisted the proposal. In a memo to council members, she urged caution.

"People could vote on the concept, and that may be helpful," she wrote. "But I suspect they will want a fuller picture of what a 'yes' vote might entail."

Miranda said there's plenty of time to inform voters. "I've got 12 or 13 months to explain. So I'm going to explain," he said. "I'm going to bring in individuals who have it in their backyards and are using it and have no repercussions from doing it."

Anthony Andrade, project manager at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, on Monday presented results of a study concluding that treated wastewater poses no greater health risks than groundwater or surface water.

Studies, he said, show bug repellent, caffeine and triclosan, an ingredient found in antibacterial soaps and toothpaste, were found in all water types. The presence of a contaminant, he said, "is not an indictment of reclaimed water."

Similarly, Patel noted that analysis uncovered a rocket fuel additive in Orange County's treated wastewater. But the same product, he noted, is found in hot dogs.

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

Tampa council member hears support for getting drinking water from wastewater 02/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 8:34am]
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