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Tampa Withdraws Request For 'Toilet To Tap' Funding

Tampa's reservoir
Southwest Florida Water Management District
Treated water would be pumped back into Tampa's reservoir on the Hillsborough River

The city of Tampa has withdrawn its request for $1.6 million to pay for a study of injecting reclaimed wastewater into the underground aquifer - so it could be used again.  The city took the request off the table at a recent meeting of Tampa Bay Water, the area's regional water supply authority.

Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who sits on the board, said they need an extra year to do a study of TAP, the Tampa Augmentation Project.

Miranda told the board the city will do the study itself, and come back for the board's input when it is 60% completed.

The agreement was intitially approved by the board, but the City of Tampa was not amenable to the terms. The city then withdrew the Tampa Augmentation Project Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement that was supposed to be considered by the board in June, 2020.

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

Ken Herd, the authority's chief science and technical officer, said talk about Tampa leaving the regional water supply authority is just that for now - talk.

"We don't really have any indication that the city wants to leave Tampa Bay Water or anything like that," Herd said. "Our board has questions regarding the regional benefits of TAP, and that can only be answered through these feasibility studies."

He said they have a long-term water plan that meets the area's water supply through 2028.  

"We're anticipating that additional new water supply will be needed for the region by 2028, so we have time to evaluate these options, so there's really no rush right at the moment why an immediate decision needs to be made," Herd said.

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 Tampa Bay Water board members said the plan would allow Tampa to become self-sufficient.

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.

Credit City of Tampa
Map of the proposed project

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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