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County workers say goodbye bottled water, hello tap water

When new residents first hook into the Pinellas County water system, they receive an illustrated handbook that boasts of the county's "sufficient, safe supply of quality water." Yet some county employees don't drink the county's "quality water." They drink distilled water purchased, in some cases, from water-supply companies _ at taxpayers' expense.

And that doesn't send the right message, says C. R. Short, chief deputy director of the county's finance division.

Short said his department no longer will approve the purchasing of bottled drinking water.

"We are proud to state that Pinellas County has a very high quality of drinking water, and therefore, (we) cannot justify the purchase of bottled water for drinking purposes," Short wrote in a recent memo.

During one quarter of this year, the county spent almost $7,000 on distilled water, said Karleen DeBlaker, the county clerk. Some of the bottled water is necessary to sterilize instruments or to process film, she said. But for the most part, bottled water is an extravagant expense, she added.

"It sends a lousy message, I think, to the taxpayers," DeBlaker said.

"Pinellas County sells water . . . that is pure, excellent, drinkable water," DeBlaker said.

William Sheeley, director of the Tourist Development Council said he is not concerned with the message his bottled water sends. Still, Sheeley plans to ban the bottled water and put water from the tap in his office's refrigerator.

W. J. Owens, executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, said he, too, will denounce distilled water out of loyalty to the county's water system.

"We've notified the (water) company that come the end of the month," he said, "it's outta here."

"This is a junior version of the water wars," Owens said.

"But anything we can do to better serve the public at a more reasonable price, we're more than happy to do it."

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