Tampa council candidate Cruz denies flip-flop on wastewater reuse plan

As a state lawmaker, she supported legislation that would allow what critics called ‘toilet to tap.’
Former state Sen. Janet Cruz (left) and incumbent Lynn Hurtak (right) face each other in the April 25 runoff for the citywide District 3 seat on the Tampa City Council.
Former state Sen. Janet Cruz (left) and incumbent Lynn Hurtak (right) face each other in the April 25 runoff for the citywide District 3 seat on the Tampa City Council. [ Janet Cruz|Lynn Hurtak ]
Published March 17, 2023

Tampa City Council candidate and former state legislator Janet Cruz denies that she has changed her position on Tampa’s plans to reuse wastewater, despite having sponsored a bill to expedite a similar plan in 2018.

“Janet Cruz has always been against ‘Toilet to Tap.’ The people who are saying different are spreading misleading information and mistruths,” Cruz campaign spokesman Ashley Bauman said via text message this week.

Mayor Jane Castor’s proposal, which the administration has dubbed PURE, calls for piping 50 million gallons a day of highly treated wastewater into Sulphur Springs and the Hillsborough River, to bolster their flows. The Hillsborough is a source of drinking water.

And what opponents have indeed dubbed ‘toilet to tap’ has been one of the hottest issues in the council campaigns, with just about all candidates saying they oppose the proposal, even though Castor herself was reelected with no opposition on the ballot.

In 2018 as a state House member, Cruz unsuccessfully sponsored a bill sought by then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn, House Bill 1303, that would have allowed any government member of the Tampa Bay Water regional water supply authority to reuse wastewater “to develop potable water supplies for its own use or for sale.”

Bauman noted that the PURE project did not exist at the time. Buckhorn was then pushing TAP, or the Tampa Augmentation Program, to use highly treated wastewater to recharge the aquifer and augment drinking water supplies there.

Although the bill failed, Cruz told the Tampa Bay Times then that she and Buckhorn both considered it successful in putting Tampa Bay Water, most of whose members opposed it, on notice that the city intended to pursue the project.

“I think it sent a message to Tampa Bay Water that the city wants to move forward on this,” the Times quoted her as saying.

However, that same year, Bauman said, Cruz voted against another bill, House Bill 1149, “that would have made programs like ‘Toilet to Tap’ a reality.”

Among other things, House Bill 1149 changed state Department of Environmental Protection rules and permitting for wastewater reuse projects. Then-Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it, saying it could have weakened protection of the state’s aquifer water quality.

Buckhorn’s project was scrapped after five out of seven council members said they wouldn’t approve it during the 2019 budget negotiations.

The city’s web site for the PURE project, or Purify Natural Resources for the Environment, still lists “Treating reclaimed water to drinking water standards and adding it directly into the drinking water supply” as one of several possible options.

But Castor spokesman Adam Smith said in December that “there is no plan under discussion to convert reclaimed water into drinking water, and there hasn’t been for years.” Other options on the web site include using it to augment Hillsborough River flows.

Cruz faces incumbent Lynn Hurtak, who has made opposition to PURE one of her main campaign themes, in the April 25 council runoff.