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WATER-WISE, BUT NOT ALWAYS WELCOME

(ran Beach, South edition of NEIGHBORHOOD TIMES)

Whether or not beach cities want it, the Pinellas County Commission is poised to give them reclaimed water _ and charge them for it.

The County Commission will vote on a plan Tuesday to extend reclaimed water service to areas without it, starting with Pinellas' beaches.

As a result, beach residents with single-family homes would pay $10.40 a month for 20 years, a total of $2,496, to help finance the $52-million project that the county proposes.

It's worth it, county officials say, because beach enclaves are wasting too much drinking water to nourish their lawns. Substituting treated wastewater, known as reclaimed water, could cut the beaches' use of drinking water by 25 percent, officials say.

"This is critically tied to the shortage of water in the area," County Administrator Fred Marquis said.

"If we don't implement a full-fledged reclaimed water program, we're going to have a real water shortage in the future. We're trying to stay years ahead of this problem."

Marquis expects the County Commission to approve the plan.

The county has tried to win the beaches' support, too. During the past three months, county staffers have answered questions about the proposed reclaimed water system at 14 hearings on the barrier islands. Then county officials asked beach towns to formally endorse the project.

The response has been lukewarm. Treasure Island, Indian Shores, Belleair Shore and Clearwater have supported the plan.

But Indian Rocks Beach voted not to support it.

Six other beach towns didn't pass a resolution of any kind. Some city officials complained the county had not provided them with enough information to decide what to do.

"Our elected officials had asked numerous questions about the cost effectiveness of the system," said Madeira Beach City Manager Kim Leinbach.

"They have not received an adequate response. We don't understand how practical this will be in a beach community that has little available land to irrigate anyway. We don't know if there other alternatives that would also reduce the use of potable water."

If the county approves the idea Tuesday, construction could begin in 1{ years. The county wants it to be finished in 2002.

The county also is considering extending reclaimed water lines to North Pinellas suburbs and charging residents there for new systems. The county would try to develop a system of shallow wells for irrigation of large areas like golf courses in North Pinellas, too.

Down at the beaches, the proposed reclaimed water system would form a giant loop from the county's South Cross Bayou Wastewater Treatment Facility on 54th Avenue N in St. Petersburg. The county already manages a reclaimed water line that goes through South Pasadena to St. Pete Beach from the plant.

The county would extend a major reclaimed water pipe from the end of the St. Pete Beach system up Gulf Boulevard to Sand Key, then cut over to the mainland at Walsingham Road and back to the wastewater treatment plant.

The county plans to pay for the $32-million main pipe in the system with a $15.7-million grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and money from a bond issue.

Residents would cover the cost of the rest of the project, an estimated $20-million, by paying a monthly "availability charge."

The exact fee for the next 20 years will be decided later this month, but the county currently is proposing this fee structure:

Each single-family house and businesses of similar size will pay $10.40 a month for 20 years.

Residents who hook up will pay $2 more a month for reclaimed water. They will also have to pay for the cost of hooking their homes up to the system, a minimum $100 fee.

After 20 years, residents on the system will pay a flat fee of $8 a month for reclaimed water.

Apartments and large businesses will make one payment of $10.40 a month for the whole building, plus 29 cents per 1,000 gallons of reclaimed water.

Jim Nelson, the county's reclaimed water coordinator, realizes that some beach residents are critical of the plan. But Nelson predicts even critics will hook up to reclaimed water in the long run.

In St. Pete Beach, for instance, about 58 percent of the residents originally approved a reclaimed water system in 1992. Today about 80 percent of the city is using reclaimed water.

"After all the controversy gets done," Nelson said, "people realize over time the big benefits of having this."

The county has another reason for wanting to pump reclaimed water to the beaches.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the county's South Cross plant to stop injecting millions of gallons of treated wastewater deep underground to dispose of it. In 1990, the DEP began to suspect that the treated wastewater was bubbling back up and contaminating the county's underground drinking water supplies.

The county later agreed to develop a reclaimed water system to redistribute about 24-million gallons of treated wastewater generated daily by the plant.

The issue of reclaimed water service for the beaches has deeply divided the communities.

In Treasure Island, which endorsed the reclaimed water system last week, the commission overturned a 1992 referendum in which 58 percent of Treasure Island's voting residents turned down reclaimed water.

Commissioner Allan Sansotta, the only Treasure Island commissioner who opposed the county's plan, said the city should have held another referendum before approving the expensive system.

"We were rushed into this by the county," Sansotta said. "I don't think that just because a government is bigger than us, they know what's best for us."

But Commissioner George Makrauer, who has an environmental consulting firm, took the other side.

"My decision was based on more than the applause meter at City Hall," Makrauer said. "The benefits to the community are two-fold. It will help increase the available supply of potable water and it will add value to property here."

Other city governments such as Redington Beach and Redington Shores have been wary to endorse any proposal that requires residents to pay a fee.

"We've had huge problems suggesting property taxes going up $30 or $20 a year," Redington Beach Mayor Mark Deighton said.

"This is going to be $10 a month. Residents aren't going to like it very much. And since most of our city is single-family residential units, not condos, this is going to hit us hard."

Beach residents have deluged city officials with comments about the county's plan.

Weldon Holmes, a 78-year-old retiree who has lived in Treasure Island for 30 years, is among those who adamantly oppose the reclaimed water system.

Like many beach residents, Holmes has a small rock yard with manicured hedges around it. He doesn't need to water his lawn, so he doesn't want to pay a $10.40-a-month fee for 20 years to bring reclaimed water here.

"If I'm never going to use it, I shouldn't have to subsidize the users," Holmes said.

"This is outrageous that they think they can do this. And do you know what a mess this is going to be? They are going to tear up every single street in Treasure Island to put in a system that half of us don't need and don't want."

Fairness is a fundamental issue.

Barbara Markley, who owns a triplex in Redington Shores, complains that residents who conserve water are being punished for wasteful residents who spread too much on their lawns.

For instance, the average home in Belleair Shore is using 33,000 gallons of water a month while the average home in Redington Shores is using just 6,000 gallons in the same period, according to county statistics. Belleair Shore residents evidently love to water their yards more than residents in any other town, county officials say.

"I, personally, don't want to pay for someone else's lush, northern-style yard," Markley said. "I don't want to lay that on the backs of people who live in single-family homes and don't use a lot of water."

Trudy Beal, a 73-year-old Treasure Island resident for 28 years, questions why the beaches are being made to pay for a countywide water shortage. She thinks that alternative conservation measures like xeriscaping, planting native, drought-resistant plants that don't need much watering, could reduce the amount of drinking water the beaches use.

"This just bugs me because it seems like we're being pushed into it without knowing all the options," Beal says. "No one wants to fight the big business of Pinellas County Utilities."

On the other side, residents who favor the reclaimed water plan argue it will increase their property values, help beautify the community, and most of all, conserve water.

"We all need to do whatever we can to relieve the water shortage," says Robert Carlson, 60, a commercial real estate broker who lives in a house on Treasure Island. "If we don't do something now, it's going to cost us a lot more in the future when our water supply runs out."

Indian Rocks Mayor Bob DiNicola also supports the reclaimed water system, although the rest of his commission did not, because he wants to be "looking out for the next generation."

DiNicola just objects that the County Commission might approve the new reclaimed water system without a vote of support from all the beach communities.

"The county came twice to address the commission, but it's going through whether or not we opposed it," DiNicola said. "Why did they waste our time pretending it's a choice?"

Pick Talley, director of Pinellas County Utilities, said that the county cannot wait for some cities to become part of the system of their own choice. The county has been considering extending reclaimed water to the beaches for a decade.

"Since we have to do this on a time frame and it's extremely expensive, it limits our options," Talley said. "We can't efficiently expand the system on a voluntary basis."

EXPANDING RECLAIMED WATER

Pinellas County intends to expand its reclaimed water service so that less of Pinellas' limited drinking water supply will be sprayed on lawns. The County Commission will vote on the plan Tuesday.

Residents who live in single-family homes where the county extends reclaimed water could be charged $10.40 a month for 20 years to help pay for new systems.

The county's first major project will be a five-year, $52-million reclaimed water pipeline through the beach communities. The county asked the beach governments to endorse the plan this fall, and here's how public opinion flowed:

TIERRA VERDE _ Homeowners had been paying a special tax to fund construction of the existing system. County will start charging residents a monthly $10.40 fee instead.

Actual change in average family's monthly utility bill: $5.65 more

ST. PETE BEACH _ Already has a reclaimed water system, so the city won't be affected now. The county manages and wants to buy the system.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: N/A

TREASURE ISLAND _ Passed a resolution last week support of the county plan.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $4.50 more

MADEIRA BEACH _ Wanted more information, but never got answers from the county on the plan's cost-effectiveness. Will not pass a resolution supporting it.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $9.03 more

REDINGTON BEACH _ Decided not to take a stand on the issue, but encouraging residents to express their opinions directly to the county.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $8.18 more

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH _ The commission is split and set to decide whether to support the plan in two weeks.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $5.65 more

REDINGTON SHORES _ Tabled the issue after residents objected to a tax increase this year and don't plan to revisit it.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $9.03 more

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH _ Voted not to support the proposed system two weeks ago and disappointed that the county is going ahead anyway.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $8.18 more

INDIAN SHORES _ Passed a resolution in support of the system.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $7.41 more

BELLEAIR BEACH _ Wanted to send a questionnaire to residents before making a decision. Surprised county is set to decide the plan this week.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $5.60 less

BELLEAIR SHORE _ Passed a resolution in support of reclaimed water last month.

Actual change in an average family's utility bill: $48.35 less

SAND KEY _ The city of Clearwater wants the county to serve the area with reclaimed water. Actual change in an average family's utility bill: Not calculated.

Sources: city governments, Pinellas County

FIGURING YOUR BILL

The county took the bills of all single family residences for the last year in each beach community and determined the average amount of water used each month by a typical family in the town. Then the county figured how much an average family expected to save or pay under the reclaimed water plan. It assumed that houses with reclaimed water would cut their use of drinking water by 25 percent.

Redington Shores:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $18.45

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: $3.00

Total bill: $37.20

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 4,500 gal.

Water bill: $12.38

Sewer bill: $18.45

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: $3.00

Total bill: $46.23

Change: + $9.03

Water saved: 1,500 gal.

Tierra Verde:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 9,000 gal.

Water bill: $22.50

Sewer bill: $19.53

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $42.03

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $19.53

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $47.68

Change: + $5.65

Water saved: 3,000 gal.

Treasure Island:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 8,000

Water bill: $20.25

Sewer bill: $17.38

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: $1.68

Total bill: $39.31

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $13.98

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: $1.68

Total bill: $43.81

Change: + $4.50

Water saved: 2,000 gal.

Belleair Shore:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 33,000 gal.

Water bill: $76.50

Sewer bill: $21.61

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $98.11

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000

Water bill: $15.76

Sewer bill: $21.61

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $49.76

Change: - $48.35

Water saved: 27,000

Belleair Beach:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 14,000 gal.

Water bill: $33.75

Sewer bill: $18.79

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $53.54

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $18.79

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $46.94

Change: - $5.60

Water saved: 8,000 gal.

Indian Rocks Beach:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 7,500 gal.

Water bill: $19.13

Sewer bill: $18.07

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $37.20

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 5,625 gal.

Water bill: $14.91

Sewer bill: $18.07

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $45.38

Change: + $8.18

Water saved: 1,875 gal.

Indian Shores:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $29.33

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $45.08

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 4,500 gal.

Water bill: $12.38

Sewer bill: $27.71

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: _

Total bill: $52.49

Change: + $7.41

Water saved: 1,500 gal.

Madeira Beach:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $16.10

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: $2.00

Total bill: $33.85

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 4,500 gal.

Water bill: $12.38

Sewer bill: $16.10

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: $2.00

Total bill: $42.88

Change: + $9.03

Water saved: 1,500 gal.

North Redington Beach:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 9,000 gal.

Water bill: $22.50

Sewer bill: $19.10

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: $2.15

Total bill: $43.75

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 6,000 gal.

Water bill: $15.75

Sewer bill: $19.10

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: $2.15

Total bill: $49.40

Change: + $5.65

Water saved: 3,000 gal.

Redington Beach:

Without reclaimed water:

Water usage: 7,500 gal.

Water bill: $19.13

Sewer bill: $22.06

Reclaimed bill: _

Stormwater bill: $4.50

Total bill: $45.69

Change: _

Water saved: _

With reclaimed water:

Water usage: 5,625 gal.

Water bill: $14.91

Sewer bill: $22.06

Reclaimed bill: $12.40

Stormwater bill: $4.50

Total bill: $53.87

Change: + $8.18

Water saved: 1,875 gal.

Source: Pinellas County

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