TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio said Monday the city's treated wastewater won't be made available to a private company looking to sell the water to customers in Hillsborough and Polk counties.
"We determined the better course of action for our city would be to develop and aggressively pursue a 20-year plan that would utilize all our reclaimed water," she said.
Every day, the city of Tampa dumps 55-million gallons of highly treated sewer water into Tampa Bay, which adds pollutants to the bay. But the water is suitable for irrigation and industry, which environmentalists and water planners generally agree is the best use for the water.
The city several weeks ago began formal discussions with Water Partners Inc., a private, not-for-profit company that wants to sell the water to customers that include Tampa Electric Co., Mosaic Fertilizer, Hillsborough and Polk counties, Lakeland and Bartow.
The plan has the backing of state lawmakers — including Sens. J.D. Alexander and Paula Dockery, who represent Polk County, and Ronda Storms, who represents Hillsborough County.
So far, Hillsborough County, Tampa Electric and Mosaic have committed $300,000 each to pay Water Partners for a preliminary design of the system. The company is slated to ask county commissioners for another $1.5-million next month as part of a $4.5-million design phase.
And late last year, Water Partners asked the Southwest Florida Water Management District to give it $94-million in property taxes to pay for half of the $188-million project. The company proposed using the money to get a bank loan to be repaid with money from the sale of Tampa's water.
But Iorio said the city, at best, can commit 5-million gallons of water a day to the project on a temporary basis, "if the price is right."
"But in terms of a permanent basis, we're going to use it in the city of Tampa," Iorio said.
John Wilcox, vice president of Water Partners, said the project can still go forward without Tampa's water.
"We've looked at some potential sources over to the east," Wilcox said.
Iorio said she will work with Tampa Bay Water, the regional water supplier, and Swiftmud to use Tampa's reclaimed water to reduce reliance on drinking water in the city for things like irrigation and car washing.
The city has reached its maximum permitted withdrawals of drinking water from the Hillsborough River, with most of that water ending up on lawns.
To meet excess demand, the city buys water from Tampa Bay Water. That cost city water customers about $10-million last year.
Iorio said she wants to reduce that demand by making reclaimed water available at a low price to Tampa water customers.
She already is negotiating with big water users, such as Tampa International Airport and Tampa Electric Co., about using treated wastewater in place of drinking water.
Plans might also include requiring property owners who live along reclaimed water pipes to connect to the system and building a wastewater treatment plant in New Tampa so residents there will have access to reclaimed water to keep their lawns green.
"We really need to be more aggressive with our reclaimed water plan," Iorio said. "We're embarking on that starting today."
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.