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Reclaimed water is right for county's future

Pinellas County hopes to build a reclaimed water supply line from its midcounty sewage treatment plant to each of the beach communities from Sand Key to Treasure Island. County commissioners will be asked to approve the plan at tonight's meeting.

Some complaints from owners of homes or businesses _ who will pay $10.40 a month for the supply line _ are likely to arise. But commissioners should approve the plan, which puts a very reasonable price tag on water conservation.

The county is spending about $140-million to build a reclaimed-water supply facility and to upgrade its South Cross Bayou Wastewater Treatment Facility. Then, if the plan wins approval, the county will build the supply lines for about $50-million and bill beach water customers about $20-million of that cost over 20 years: That comes to about $10.40 per month per household.

Homeowners who want to use reclaimed water will then pay only $2 a month for an unlimited supply during those 20 years. That is a total of $12.40 a month for all of the lawn and garden sprinkling a homeowner wants to do. And that is a bargain. Many beach residents will save money on their utility bill by using reclaimed water.

This project was created because the county was forced to find a use for its treated wastewater. The state permit for the South Cross Bayou plant requires the county to stop its practice of disposing of million of gallons of wastewater by pumping it underground, where it threatens to contaminate other water sources. So the reclaimed water project has two substantial environmental benefits: It stops underground contamination of the water supply, and it reduces the amount of drinking water used for irrigation.

Four beach cities formally support the plan; Indian Rocks Beach opposes it; and the other beach communities have not taken a stand. Some homeowners grumble about being charged $10.40 a month even if they don't use reclaimed water.

Weldon Holmes, whose Treasure Island home has a rock yard, expressed that view, saying: "I shouldn't have to subsidize the users."

When it comes to environmental protection and water preservation, every Pinellas County resident has a responsibility. Besides, once the reclaimed water system is available to beach communities, most property owners will wonder how they got along without it.

Detractors of the plan are also failing to acknowledge the project could have a positive impact on their property. Cheaper water for irrigation will make their neighborhoods and cities more attractive and could possibly raise their property values.

Pinellas County commissioners should listen to the critics, then they should not hesitate or apologize for making the right choice for our future.