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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor delays wastewater reuse project

The mayor said the PURE project, scheduled for a City Council vote on Thursday, would be pushed back several weeks.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced Wednesday that a controversial wastewater reuse proposal would be delayed for several weeks before a City Council vote to allow time to build consensus.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced Wednesday that a controversial wastewater reuse proposal would be delayed for several weeks before a City Council vote to allow time to build consensus. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 13
Updated Jan. 13

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor said Wednesday she would delay a revived effort to convert wastewater to meet water needs in the state’s third-largest city for several weeks.

A City Council vote on a $10 million reallocation within the Water Department’s budget for design costs for a proposal dubbed “Purify Natural Resources for the Environment” or PURE had been set for Thursday.

The program would eliminate the need to discharge about 50 million of gallons of highly-treated wastewater into Tampa Bay. Instead, the wastewater would be further cleaned by injecting into wells in the aquifer before dumping it into the Hillsborough River to maintain adequate water flows and help stem salination in Sulphur Springs.

PURE would allow the city to “drought-proof” itself and continue to draw water from the river for the city’s drinking water needs. The converted wastewater would be dumped below where the city draws water.

Related: Tampa renews push for wastewater reuse

Castor said the delay until the council’s Feb. 4 meeting was the best way to proceed for the controversial proposal.

“So that everybody fully understands every element of the initiative, and then also gives us time to answer any questions that may arise,” Castor said.

Council member Bill Carlson had raised concerns about the vote before more public outreach could be performed. Castor said she agreed to the delay at the request of Council member John Dingfelder on Tuesday.

Dingfelder also asked for a comprehensive, independent, scientific review of all the data and conclusions in the PURE project. Castor agreed.

“I think that’s even more important (than the delay),” Dingfelder said.

Carlson and Dingfelder were among five council members who opposed a similar iniative in 2019. That program, the Tampa Augmentation Project or TAP, would have used the converted wastewater to bolster the city’s drinking water supply.

Environmental groups were among those that opposed the project, which they said could produce water tainted by pharmaceuticals, a claim disputed by city water officials, who said extensive testing had revealed tiny amounts of those chemicals, far below hazardous threshholds.

Related: Castor kills TAP project

City water officials have said PURE could be ready by 2027 and could help Tampa comply with a proposed state mandate that would ban cities from discharging reclaimed water into water bodies. Senate Bill 64, seeking that ban, was filed last week by Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican.