Absorbing demand // Bay area considers linking development, water reuse

Published Jan. 20, 1990|Updated Oct. 16, 2005

BRADENTON - With the Tampa Bay area's population rising and the need for water reaching new highs, home developers in the 1990s could face this choice: Provide pipes and plumbing for reclaimed water, or else do not build at all. Area officials who grant and deny developers' permits have no consensus on this approach, but on Friday several said it is time to link water use to development approval.

Pasco County might become the first place in the region where such a concept is tested.

Mike Wells, a Pasco County commissioner, told fellow members of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council on Friday that he wants to pass a county law to require water reclamation in any new development.

The concept is hardly new, and reclaimed water for lawn sprinkling is available in various Tampa Bay cities. Tampa is doing tests in hopes of turning waste water into safe drinking water, said Tampa council member Larry Smith. Golf courses commonly use waste water for their irrigation needs.

But with the exception of golf courses, most times a municipality, not a developer, has to pay the start-up costs of reclamation.

"We haven't required (developers) to send water back to the homes," said Peter Hubbell, executive director of the Southwest Florida Management District, or Swiftmud. "But as water use gets more critical, that is something we may want to address."

Robert Prior, mayor of New Port Richey, said that while requiring builders to install reclamation lines "will raise the cost of that house," it will be worth the price in water consumption savings.

Between 40 and 50 percent of household water consumption goes for outdoor irrigation during dry spells, Hubbell said. That figure averages about 25 percent over the whole year. If some of that water could come from household drains rather than an aquifer, demand for new water could be diminished.

Wells' proposal would make reuse mandatory in new developments. The Pasco commissioner suggested using impact fee credits to provide an incentive to developers.

The costs of such reclamation depend on the extent of the development, but "it's getting more and more economical over time, because technology is getting better," Hubbell said.

Not everyone at the regional planning council meeting agreed with Wells' solution. Largo Mayor George C. McGough said during the meeting at the Manatee Civic Center that the regional planning body should not dictate to local governments how water must be reclaimed.

Water consumption is climbing, but not as rapidly as the population, according to figures from local government comprehensive plans. For instance, the combined population of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties totals 2.46-million. By 2000, the four-county population will reach 3-million - a 21 percent increase.

In the meantime, water use will climb from 333-million gallons a day to 399-million gallons, or a 19 percent increase.

However, each county's share of the water consumption could be altered with population shifts. Pinellas now uses 40 percent of the water pumped in the region, whereas Hillsborough uses 39 percent. In 10 years, as Hillsborough takes the lead in population, it will account for 41 percent of the region's water use, while Pinellas will use 38 percent.

Jonathan M. Kennedy, the engineering and planning manager for the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, said a series of steps - from improved pumping facilities and new supplies of water to conservation measures - could bring supplies up while holding household usage down.

Governments will have to start planning development to meet the finite supply, said Swiftmud's Hubbell.

The water discussions Friday brought no formal action from the planning council.