1. Environment

Tampa Bay Water postpones until 2020 voting on Tampa wastewater-to-drinking water plan

SCOTT KEELER | TimesPhoto of St. Petersburg City Council member and candidate Darden Rice
Published Apr. 15

CLEARWATER -— Facing strong public opposition, the region's water supply authority again postponed voting on a city of Tampa plan to produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water by pumping treated wastewater into the Floridan aquifer.

Tampa Bay Water board members voted unanimously to put off making a decision for more than a year, the latest in a string of delays for the $350 million project dubbed "toilet to tap" by critics.

Water board members had already postponed a scheduled October vote until February. In February they postponed it until Monday. On Monday, they agreed there were still too many unanswered questions to make a final decision and postponed a vote once more, this time until June 2020.

"There is considerable public concern and alarm about what effects there might be on the aquifer and our drinking water," Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith, a water board member, said during the meeting. She said she had asked the Tampa Bay Water staff to ask the city questions about those issues, and most of the answers involved a variation on "we can't tell you until we do a feasibility study."

Smith said she had highlighted in blue ink all the places where that answer had occurred. Then she held up several pages of documents entirely covered in blue highlighter.

The motion to postpone the vote on what Tampa officials call the "Tampa Augmentation Project" came from St. Petersburg council woman Darden Rice, who dangled an incentive for Tampa to agree to another delay: The board would support Tampa's attempt to get $1.6 million from the Legislature to pay for a feasibility study, and if that fell through, then Tampa Bay Water would provide the money itself. Tampa would provide a matching amount.

PRIOR COVERAGE: Is Tampa's toilet-to-tap plan swirling down the drain?

Leaders of local chapters of the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters strongly urged the board to reject Tampa's proposal. They complained about a lack of transparency, a lack of scientific studies of the potential effects and what they perceived as a rush to gain approval before Bob Buckhorn leaves office as Tampa's mayor.

Tampa's plan calls for ending its legal discharge of its highly-treated wastewater into Tampa Bay, instead pumping the wastewater deep into the aquifer to further purify it, then releasing it into the city's Hillsborough River reservoir near the city's water plant. Tampa officials say that eliminating the minimal nutrients the water currently discharges into the bay from its Howard F. Curren sewage plant would help the environment. They also said the plan would bolster the region's water resources by allowing Tampa to be virtually self-sufficient in water, freeing up water for needier Pinellas and Pasco counties.

But in addition to the environmental questions about the project, critics — including several former Tampa Bay Water officials — have raised concerns that Tampa may be trying to break free from the 20-year-old Tampa Bay Water agency, which was created to end the notorious water wars of the 1990s. Tampa officials have insisted that is not their goal.

PRIOR COVERAGE: Tempers mount over Tampa's plan to turn wastewater into drinking water..

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who chairs the water board, wanted a guarantee that there would be no further delays beyond June 2020, explaining, "There's got to be a fish or cut bait on this." But board members left the door open for other potential problems in the future.

Contact Craig Pittman at . Follow @craigtimes.


  1. A meteor is seen streaking left to right above the constellation Orion in the early hours of Dec. 14, 2012 in the sky above Tyler, Texas.  The metor is part of the Geminid meteor shower, which is peaking tonight.  As many as 50 per hour are being seen.  The meteors radiate from the region of sky containing the constellation Gemini which give them their name.  (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman) DR. SCOTT M. LIEBERMAN  |  AP
    Considered one of “most beautiful meteor showers of the year” by NASA, the Orionids are expected to peak Monday night into Tuesday morning.
  2. Oil Sands mining operations at the Syncrude Canada Oil Sands project near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on June 13, 2017. (Photo by Larry MacDougal, © Imago via ZUMA Press) IMAGO  |
    The New York attorney general says Exxon used two sets of books and misled investors by downplaying the potential costs of carbon emissions.
  3. In this August 2019 file photo, fish killed by red tide can be seen at Pass-a-Grille beach. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   Times]
    Turtle conservationists have seen seven dead Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and one dead loggerhead at Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach.
  4. The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans. National Hurricane Center
    The National Weather Service warns that the Gulf of Mexico disturbance could strengthen and bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the bay area.
  5. Researchers from the University of Central Florida and International innovation company, Imec have developed a camera that uses specific wavelength of light to easily find pythons in habitat where they are typically well camouflaged. 
    University of Central Florida researchers worked with Imec to develop the cameras.
  6. The Florida black bear, photographed at Nature's Classroom, is on the move these days in search of food to fatten up for a period of light hibernation in the winter. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times (2013)
    Instead of hibernation, Florida’s black bears go into a kind of persistent lethargy for the winter, much like the winter blues humans encounter.
  7. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. Florida State University professor Wenyuan Fan said the storm probably created "stormquakes" offshore in the gulf, too. [Photo courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration]] NOAA
    Analysis of a decade of records shows hurricanes causing seismic activity on continental shelf
  8. This Mobil Coast gas station at 16055 State Road 52 in Land O Lakes is one of 10 cited in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit where inspectors said they found lapses in regularly required tests, maintenance, documentation or other oversight by Brandon-based Automated Petroleum and Energy or its related companies. On Wednesday, the company said the station had already been put back in compliance with state regulations. (Photo via Google street view) Google street view
    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection contends Automated Petroleum and Energy Company failed to do required maintenance or testing at 10 gas stations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
  9. The city of Tampa has given notice that it plans to take over the McKay Bay waste-to-energy plant shown in this 2001 photo. Tampa Bay Times
    The city has given its contractor eight months notice that it plans to take control of the facility that turns trash into energy.
  10. Port St. Lucie resident Tracy Workman photographed this extremely rare yellow cardinal recently in her backyard. Some northern cardinals have a genetic mutation that turns their normally crimson feathers yellow. Spotting one is extremely rare. Photo courtesy of Tracy Workman
    On average, there are only three reported sightings of yellow cardinals annually.