Mayor Pam Iorio's plan to commit the entirety of Tampa's treated wastewater to local needs will benefit the Tampa Bay region for generations to come.
Iorio made the announcement Monday, likely killing a flawed proposal to pipe the recycled water to corporate customers in Polk County. With its population expected to double to 7-million in the next 40 years, the region needs every available drop of water to grow the economy and sustain the bay area's environmental resources.
The city of Tampa produces 55-million gallons of treated wastewater each day that several thousand residents tap to irrigate their lawns. But the market has not taken off, for costs and other reasons, and most of the city's recycled water gets dumped into Tampa Bay. Iorio announced Monday she would come up with a plan this year to vastly expand the use of reclaimed water. She wants to pipe more to large industrial customers such as Tampa International Airport and sign up more homeowners to a supply that could be a cheaper alternative for outdoor watering.
With about half of all potable water going to irrigate lawns, the mayor is right to tap the enormous potential reclaimed water has to curb fresh-water consumption. Iorio also is right to begin work on a framework for reserving Tampa's reclaimed supply for the city and the region. A proposed deal with Tampa Electric Co., Mosaic Fertilizer and other partners to ship the water east to Polk County was bad for the city. It shrouded the business arrangement in secrecy, limited the city's ability to meet its future water needs and did nothing at the public level to encourage conservation. Hillsborough County needs to vet its own participation more thoroughly.
Iorio's plan could significantly reduce the amount of drinking water residents now spray on their lawns and cars. Her 20-year plan includes exploring whether to build a treatment plant in New Tampa, which could get the water to homeowners faster and more cheaply than installing miles of pipeline, and a new revenue model that could make installing reclaimed a more practical option for homeowners. Also, the mayor has sent a signal to Pinellas and Pasco counties that Tampa is willing to do its part to improve the region's water picture. That overture could not only help lessen the cost and environmental damage of water resource projects down the road, but improve the climate for cooperation on a range of other issues, chief among them transportation.