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Vote On Tampa's 'Toilet To Tap' Postponed For A Year

Treated water would be pumped back into Tampa's reservoir on the Hillsborough River
Southwest Florida Water Management District
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The regional water authority postponed a decision Monday on a controversial plan that would take treated wastewater from the city of Tampa and inject it underground for later use. It's the latest delay for the proposal.

The vote on the plan, called "toilet to tap" by its opponents, was postponed in part by concerns about its impact to the environment. Members of also said allowing Tampa to become self-sufficient could undermine the agreement tying together the water supplies of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Board member and St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice made the motion to push back a vote until June, 2020.

"There are so many unknowns that have been mentioned in terms of environmental and public health impact, debt, cost," she said. "We need to defer the decision until we get feasibility reports and we have time to really discuss what this is going to do to the historic regional interlocal agreement that has created Tampa Bay Water."

Some members of the board have said the plan would allow Tampa to become self-sufficient, but still vote on water matters of concern to the three counties.

Rice said the extra time would allow a feasibility study on the project to be completed. She also offered Tampa up to $1.6 million if the city cannot get that funding for test wells from the state legislature. The city of Tampa would pay an equal amount.

Tampa officials say the plan would eliminate discharges of treated wastewater into Tampa Bay, and add to the region's drinking water supply.

But some opponents claim the health hazards are unknown.  Dena Leavengood of the League of Women Voters spoke out against the plan.

"Reclaimed water can contain pharmaceuticals, hormones and other contaminants," she told board members. "It's not yet clear as to how much of these contaminants would be removed under the proposal. Also, with their use on the rise, the long-term ingestion of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals on human health has not yet been sufficiently studied."

The proposed $350 million Tampa Augmentation Project would supply 50 million gallons a day of drinking water by pumping treated wastewater into the Floridan aquifer. It would then be pumped into the city's reservoir on the Hillsborough River, before being treated again for drinking water.

This is an illustration of the proposed recharge wells
Credit City of Tampa
The Florida Channel
This is an illustration of the proposed recharge wells


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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.