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Reclaimed water gives boost to dry community

A new supply of reclaimed water is flowing from the Hillsborough County Water Department.

That's good news to Ned Nevaril and his 60-some neighbors in Miller Woods, who will be among the first water customers outfitted with a connection to the deeply discounted, nondrinkable water.

They'll pay up to $3,000 each for the hookup but will be able to water their lawns without restrictions at a price well below that of potable water.

"The cost of potable water is going sky high, so it's getting to be expensive to sprinkle your lawn," Nevaril said. "If you have reasonable rates for water, people take better care of their yards."

That, Nevaril said, will keep the neighborhood looking nice and property values up.

Others set to get reclaimed water soon include Diamond Hills, Abbey Grove and Buckhorn Estates. Additional applicants will receive the waterfirst-come, first-served.

Reclaimed water is treated wastewater that's suitable for such things as irrigation, car washing and decorative fountains. It takes about five homes discharging into the sewer system to provide one home with reclaimed water.

The county Water Department launched the program about eight years ago, but high demand and limited supply quickly strained resources; applicants were put on a waiting list. The large number of homes recently built in south Hillsborough County increased the supply for the area.

"When there's growth, there's wastewater, and then we can provide more reclaimed water," said Jim Duncan, who runs the program for the Water Department. "They're building like crazy in south central."

That allowed the department to turn on the reclaimed water spigot.

Any neighborhood in south Hillsborough currently on county water can get reclaimed water if at least 50 percent of the residents sign a petition saying they want it.

Each homeowner pays about $3,000 for the installation of pipes and connections, a fee that can be paid in a lump sum or over 20 years as part of property tax bills.

Nevaril said about 60 percent of the 55 or so homeowners in his neighborhood signed the petition asking for the water.

Existing reclaimed water customers pay $6 or $9 a month for all the water they want. There are no restrictions on days or times of use. That rate structure was locked in for 30 years in November 2001, Duncan said.

To encourage conservation, the water department initiated a different billing system for new reclaimed water customers.

They'll be put on a meter and pay a base charge of $3.75 each month plus 25 to 55 cents per thousand gallons, with the cost per thousand gallons rising as more water is used.

"You're only penalized if you use more than average," Duncan said.

It's still much cheaper than drinkable water, which costs $3.80 each month plus $2.35 to $6.20 per thousand gallons.

In 2001, the county produced 29-million gallons per day of reclaimed water. Based on projected growth, Duncan said, there should be 44-million gallons per day by 2020.

Even more reclaimed water may some day be available in Hillsborough.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, Tampa Bay Water, the city of Tampa and Pasco and Hillsborough counties are considering a $200-million plan that would capture 55-million gallons of reclaimed water produced each day in Tampa. That water would go to homeowners and businesses in the city and two counties. The water would also be put into the Hillsborough and Alafia river to offset increased withdrawals from the rivers. Right now, Tampa's reclaimed water is dumped into Tampa Bay.

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