City of Tampa now says it played a small role in writing state water reuse law

But the language it got added is what would allow the city to dump its treated wastewater into the Hillsborough River and Sulphur Springs.
Marley Wilkes joined Mayor Jane Castor's staff in 2019.
Marley Wilkes joined Mayor Jane Castor's staff in 2019. [ CITY OF TAMPA ]
Published Dec. 9, 2022

TAMPA — The city of Tampa now says it played a minimal role in contributing language to state legislation restricting the way local governments may dispose of wastewater.

In a memo to council members on Thursday, city Director of Government Affairs and Strategic Initiatives Marley Wilkes said “our team lobbied to add one sentence” to the 12-page bill known as Senate Bill 64. She said the language the city sought also extended the deadline for the city to come into compliance with the law by four years.

That one sentence is what would allow Mayor Jane Castor’s proposal to dump as much as 50 million gallons a day of highly treated wastewater into the Hillsborough River, which is a source of Tampa’s drinking water. It currently dumps the water into Tampa Bay.

Castor’s proposal has come under attack by environmentalists and some City Council members as just another version of what they have described as “toilet to tap,” a prior proposal to pump the water underground. It was introduced five months before the state legislation passed.

Related: Tampa renews push for reusing wastewater

Wilkes’ memo said a story in the Tampa Bay Times published Thursday that said city lobbyists “helped craft” the legislation was an “exaggeration.” The story was based on an earlier statement from the city that said “Tampa worked with legislators to incorporate language permitting water reuse projects with environmental benefits, such as maintaining minimum river flows.”

That statement said the city and other local governments supported the goals of the legislation. In her memo, Wilkes said the city played no role in asking for the legislation to be drafted or getting it signed into law.

“The passage of the bill was a forgone conclusion and the city worked to make it better for our our community,” Wilkes wrote. “These changes were a heavy lift given broad statewide support for ending surface water discharges.”

Related: Tampa pitches PURE as environmental benefit

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