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  1. Opinion

Column: Why Tampa needs legislation to push its reclaimed water plan

1/12/2012 Tampa, FL reclaim 2 Sewer plant on Hookers Point Beginning of process for water to be treated CLIFF MCBRIDE/STAFF
Published Jan. 26, 2018

The commitment that Tampa makes to its residents — the commitment to build the infrastructure that will sustain our growth and maintain our security — serves as a blueprint for our future.

That commitment drove the development of the Tampa Augmentation Project. TAP is an alternative water supply project that will drought-proof the city of Tampa for decades and, when fully functioning, potentially provide millions of gallons per day on average for the Tampa Bay region. It will end the discharge of more than 55 million gallons a day of highly treated water into the Hillsborough Bay and turn a wasted asset in to a drinking water source. It will improve the environmental health of the bay, Sulphur Springs and the Floridan Aquifer along the Hillsborough River.

TAP is an innovative solution to future water needs. It is ground-breaking and will serve as a model for other regions as to how we begin fostering a long-term alternative water supply. TAP is critical to the Tampa Bay region. And yet, it is Tampa's membership in the regional water supply authority, Tampa Bay Water, which is preventing the project from moving forward.

Tampa is a fully participating member of Tampa Bay Water, the regional utility that consists of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, Pasco County and New Port Richey. The stability and value provided by Tampa Bay Water when it was created cannot be overstated. The members and their willingness to cooperate have made Tampa Bay Water a model for regional cooperation throughout the state.

It is important to know that Tampa's membership is unique. Unlike the other members, Tampa is required by the interlocal agreement to self-supply up to 82 million gallons a day before we are permitted to purchase water from Tampa Bay Water. We are the only member with the obligation to self-supply.

Moreover, in times of emergency or drought Tampa is not guaranteed the full supply of water it may need from Tampa Bay Water. It stands at the end of the line of the other members. As such, we must be able to build, operate and maintain the infrastructure necessary to ensure we can meet that obligation moving forward. TAP will ensure our ability to meet our requirement to self-supply and provide additional water for the region.

Months ago, Tampa initiated discussions with Tampa Bay Water, its members and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) regarding the progress of TAP. Tampa, supported by Hillsborough County, asked the Tampa Bay Water board to consider a change to the interlocal agreement between its members that would clarify Tampa's right to use its reclaimed water for potable supply. In response, a working committee was created — a committee that has since made no discernible progress.

The failure of Tampa Bay Water to promptly address the need for a limited amendment to the interlocal agreement now jeopardizes the entire critical path timeline for the project. In addition, Tampa Bay Water's position was compounded by Swiftmud's indication that Tampa's cooperative funding could be at risk without clarification of the interlocal agreement.

With little action, no sense of urgency and the potential loss of crucial funding, legislation was the only avenue left for Tampa to keep TAP on track. I asked our representatives in Tallahassee, Sen. Dana Young and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, to file a bill that provided the members of Tampa Bay Water the absolute right to use our reclaimed water as a potable water supply. At a special meeting last week, the Tampa Bay Water board voted to oppose this legislation, SB 1710 and HB 1303, with the Tampa and Hillsborough County board members dissenting.

This legislation has sparked hyperbole and theatrics from those who wish to keep the status quo. We appreciate the Tampa Bay Water Board expediting the working committees' effort on TAP. I do not take lightly seeking help from state officials on matters that would be better dealt with at home. And I agree, it would be ideal to see a regional solution to this impasse. However, we will continue to support the legislation we requested until a time comes that it is clear that the roadblocks preventing the progress of our project are cleared.

Tampa Bay Water was created to end divisiveness and ensure the development of a safe and reliable water source. It was not created to obstruct the innovation of its members.

The time has come to demonstrate the strength of Tampa Bay Water; to prove it can grow and evolve. Now is the time to show that we, together as a region, can embrace new ideas and new methods for the benefit of all six member-governments and those that call the Tampa Bay area home.

Bob Buckhorn is mayor of Tampa.

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