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Council eases limits on reclaimed water

A ban on new hookups is lifted and the council hopes to give the mayor more control over water emergencies.

The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday removed the moratorium on new connections to the reclaimed-water system for residents who already live along a reclaimed-water line.

It is the first of an expected two-part change to the rules governing that system. The other, to be considered at a public hearing April 5, would give the mayor the power to declare a reclaimed-water emergency whenever the city runs short of highly treated wastewater or has problems with the system.

During an emergency, users would be assigned three irrigation days per week. Otherwise, the present unlimited watering would continue. Emergencies could not last longer than 90 days or be declared more often than once every six months without council approval.

The city disposes of its treated wastewater in two ways: by sending it to reclaimed-water customers for irrigation, or flushing it into disposal wells. Council member Bill Foster proposed lifting the moratorium to minimize the amount of water being flushed when there is no shortage.

"We've got six months of the year where we're injecting 15- to 20-million gallons of water per day," Foster said. "We're assuring that water is dispersed on lawns, not deep-well injected."

City Public Works Administrator George Webb said that if the emergency rationing power passes next month, any shortages will be manageable, even with the increased number of customers.

Webb has said there are 280 applications on file for new reclaimed-water hookups that have been shelved during the moratorium. About 1,500 potential customers now will be eligible, he said.

Also Thursday, the council:

Agreed to let the city's staff negotiate with businessman Tom Begley to stage as many as five annual St. Petersburg Grand Prix races on the streets around Tropicana Field. The event last was held in 1997.

Passed a resolution supporting a festival of bands at Tropicana Field in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day between 2003 and 2005. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has been wrangling with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to get permission to use the stadium.

The team says there is an annual boat show booked the same weekend, but that there may be flexibility after 2002.

"Designate Martin Luther King Day as a community-use day," Jonathan Alpert, a Tampa attorney representing the SCLC, asked the council, adding that he thought council support would make the Devil Rays more amenable to booking the festival "once the city shows some moral leadership."

City Administrator Tish Elston said she is participating in the negotiations to try to help the SCLC and the baseball team reach an agreement.

"This is just the beginning of the job," Elston said. "We have a lot of work to make everybody fall into place, some practical difficulties to overcome, but I think every party involved has a willingness to make this work."