Tampa won’t get an exemption to a state law that will prohibit the city from dumping 50 million gallons a day of highly treated reclaimed water into Tampa Bay in the future.
That fact was bemoaned by environmentalists Thursday, who had urged City Council members to lobby in support of changing the law.
They have opposed Mayor Jane Castor’s proposal to treat that wastewater further and pump it into the Hillsborough River, as well as a prior proposal dating to 2018 to inject it into the aquifer. On Thursday, her staff said the proposal no longer exists, leaving the matter in limbo after years of debate.
The city faces a 2032 state deadline to stop pumping reclaimed water into the bay. But a majority of City Council members have opposed any proposal to mix it — no matter how highly treated — with city drinking water sources, the solution advocated by Castor and predecessor Bob Buckhorn.
“I call it toilet-to-tap,” said council member Bill Carlson, a fierce critic of the water reuse project.
The South Tampa council member has vocal allies. The local chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of the River and neighborhood activists including Carol Ann Bennett have vociferously opposed any iteration of the project, citing possible contaminants like pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and other potential toxins.
In September, Castor’s plan appeared to hit an impregnable wall of opposition after council members nixed a $1.2 million request for the plan. Instead, the city will use money already allocated for the project to prepare for a January workshop designed to answer at least some of the environmental concerns and renew the administration’s case.
Last month, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told city officials that the wastewater dumped into the bay didn’t meet state standards for an exemption, according to emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times under the state’s Sunshine Law.
Environmentalists say a 2021 state law requiring local governments to end discharges into waterways by 2032 puts cities such as Tampa in a policy straitjacket. Persuading the Legislature to tweak the law to provide Tampa some breathing room would give the city time to proceed safely, they said.
Since council members killed money for the project, the project now exists in cold storage until the city can prepare a more exhaustive explanation for why the administration thinks the proposal is the best solution, said Jean Duncan, the city’s administrator for infrastructure and mobility. That will come in the January workshop.
“I very much look forward to it,” said Chuck Weber, the city’s water director.