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Clearwater reconsiders reclamation

The city shouldn't rush to commit to a multimillion-dollar reclaimed water system in Countryside just so it can get a $1.3-million grant and low-interest loans, commissioners said Tuesday.

During a work session, officials heard a proposal to pipe treated wastewater to homes in Countryside. In the first phase of a citywide system, 40 miles of pipe would carry 3.6-million gallons of reclaimed water from wastewater treatment plants to lawns and gardens.

Later, the city would expand the system to the rest of Clearwater.

The Countryside phase of the project could cost up to $15-million, including financing, said city consultant Thomas Burke of Camp, Dresser and McKee.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) has offered the city a $1.3-million grant to help pay for construction, Burke said. The deadline to accept that money is April 1.

The city also has a chance at up to $5-million in state loans at a 3.8 percent interest rate, Burke said. But the project has to be designed by June.

City Manager Michael Wright said he was bringing the project to commissioners ahead of schedule so they could decide whether to meet deadlines to get the grant and loans.

"Now is the best time if you want to go for state money," Wright said.

But there is a problem, he said. The staff had not had time to survey Countryside residents to see whether they would use reclaimed water.

"I have absolutely no idea how it will be perceived out there," he said.

Countryside residents often have shallow wells and might not be willing to give those up, Wright said. And if few people sign up for reclaimed water, those who do might find themselves with high monthly bills.

If the city made hookup mandatory, an average family using 15,000 gallons each month to water could pay $12.80 to $17, depending on how the system is financed, Burke said. People in condos would pay slightly less.

Golf courses and other open spaces could pay $39 to $45 an acre to water, he said.

Although people like the idea of reclaimed water, "a lot of people didn't like the mandatory part," said Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald, who lives in Countryside.

Wright told the commission that he thought proceeding with the project would be premature, but that if the city didn't go ahead, it probably would lose the Swiftmud grant. As a consequence, a reclaimed water system would cost customers $2.50 to $5 more each month.

Commissioners agreed that the city shouldn't be too hasty. They suggested that the staff talk to Countryside residents before the city does further work on the project.

They also said the staff should talk to property owners on the beach and in Island Estates, where the homes don't have shallow wells.

Building the reclaimed system to the beach would be more expensive, Wright said, and residents' monthly fees would be higher. But the pipeline could go to areas such as Jack Russell Stadium and Coachman Park, allowing the city to use reclaimed water on its property.

Conservation kit

project scaled back

CLEARWATER _ Instead of handing out full-scale conservation kits to all its water customers, the city may give away water-saving devices just to the people who ask for them.

Tuesday, the City Commission balked at the idea of spending $400,000 to install and monitor the use of 60,000 water conservation kits offered by the county.

"Most of the money is for recordkeeping and justifying the program," Commissioner Lee Regulski said.

Instead of giving complete kits to people who might not want them, Public Works Director Bill Baker suggested, the city could spend $10,000 on showerheads and toilet blocks.

People who want them could pick them up when they pay their water bill, he said, or perhaps the city could deliver them to people who have no way to get to the office.

The commission told staff to plan the program on a trial basis, with voluntary participation by residents and a strong marketing campaign.

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