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Buckhorn says he still has hope for Tampa’s toilet-to-tap plan after defeat in Tallahassee

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday that the likely scuttling of a bill in Tallahassee that would have allowed Tampa to fast track its plan to convert reclaimed water to drinking water did its job: getting the attention of Tampa Bay Water and its member governments.

On Tuesday, Tallahassee dealt Tampa's bid to fast track its toilet-to-tap proposal a likely lethal blow, deep-sixing a bill by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz.

But, on Wednesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the Cruz bill, and a companion measure sponsored by another Tampa state lawmaker, Sen. Dana Young, achieved their intended purpose: getting the attention of Tampa Bay Water, the regional authority that had balked at Tampa's efforts.

"It would have been nice to have an alternate plan," Buckhorn said. "But we raised the awareness. They now understand there is  sense of urgency."

Tampa wants to take the 50 million gallons of highly-treated reclaimed water (cleansed to a higher standard than what is sprinkled on lawns) it dumps into Tampa Bay each day and use it to replenish the aquifer and a reservoir. The extra water would make the city more drought resistant and free up more water for the water authorities other members: St. Petersburg, New Port Richey and Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, Buckhorn said.

So far, only Hillsborough County has favored Tampa's timetable. St. Petersburg officials have floated the idea of possible litigation. Other members fear it may raise their wholesale water prices, a concern disputed by Buckhorn.

St. Petersburg Democrat, Rep. Ben Diamond, helped put Tampa's plan on the backburner in Tallahasse where it is highly unlikely to be revived this session.

Tampa Bay Water officials have said Tampa's plan is a good one, but it first needs to reach a collective agreement with the other members. Moving too fast might dissolve the compact, which ended the 1990s water wars. And it could threaten the agency's debt obligations, they have said.

The issue will now be taken up at the regional level. Tampa Bay Water will have a meeting to discuss it on Feb. 19.

"Going to the Legislature was not our preferred option," Buckhorn said, who said he didn't think the legislative purgatory had hurt the city's leverage. "They recognized people are paying attention."