TAMPA—It’s been a source of conflict between Tampa and St. Petersburg, a bête noir for environmentalists and a project once deemed essential to future growth in the state’s third-largest city.
But, at least for now, a $300 million proposal to convert wastewater to drinking water dubbed ‘toilet-to-tap’ by critics and Tampa Augmentation Project by the city is off the table.
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Mayor Jane Castor officially announced the sewage reuse project wouldn’t be part of what is now a $2.9 billion plan to revamp the city’s aging sewage and water infrastructure.
In a memo to council members Thursday —hours before a public hearing and crucial vote on her Progressive Infrastructure Plan to Ensure Sustainability (PIPES) plan— Castor said it was important to move forward on the rest of the plan without toilet to tap.
But the mayor signaled her intent to keep searching for new sources of water.
“Consideration of alternative water sources is not a matter we can afford to postpone given the expected increases in Tampa’s population and the desire to provide water at cost efficient rates,” she wrote.
Last week, council members voted 5-2 to request the reuse project be taken out of the proposal.
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Castor also addressed another concern: the ability of low-income residents to pay utility bills expected to nearly double by 2028 if her proposal is approved at tonight’s 6 p.m. City Hall hearing.
An expanded Customer Assistance Program will increase eligibility more than 300 percent from 6,900 to 29,000 households by removing previous requirements that recipients be seniors and/or disabled.
Now, households up to 30 percent of area median income levels will be eligible. For a family of four that translates to household income up to $25,750.
“I am confident that with these two amendments the City Council will be encouraged to act today on PIPES. I am also hopeful that the City Council keeps an open mind toward the sustainable water supply needs for our citizens, visitors and regional community in the foreseeable future, by objectively seeking the most efficient, effective and equitable options available within the innovative industry,” Castor wrote.
Follow the Times for live coverage of tonight’s hearing on Twitter @CharlieFrago and look for the story tonight on tampabay.com.