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Tampa Bay Water Chairman: Board Is 'Teetering On Edge Of Water War'

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

Sparks started flying Monday during a meeting of Tampa Bay Water, and got so bad the chairman said it could threaten the future of the regional water authority.

"We are teetering on the edge of water war. Teetering," said Tampa Bay water chair and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.

Murman sounded that warning after Darden Rice, representing the city of St. Petersburg, and Charlie Miranda, representing Tampa, argued over an ongoing proposal by Tampa to inject treated wastewater into the underground aquifer and then pump it back into the drinking water system.

The brouhaha was over whether Tampa has the right to pursue the so-called "Toilet to Tap" on its own. Murman said the board should give Tampa more time.

"We have to go back to the science. Environmental aspects. The engineering," Murman said. "We need to let the city continue with their engineering, so we can get the results back, evaluate them, and say we're going to move forward or not."

The tiff was over a proposal by Rice to continue paying an attorney who ruled recently that Tampa has no legal right to do the project on its own. Tampa City Councilman Miranda has said the city's attorneys have a differing opinion. The city withdrew its request for $1.6 million in funds for a study at the previous board meeting.

"There’s a pattern here," Rice said. "When Tampa didn’t like the way things were going with the $1.6 million that we offered, they took it off the table when we asked for more transparency. And, now, alas, that (the attorney) gave us an opinion that Tampa didn’t like, now they’re using a legal technicality to block us from asking the same attorney any more questions."

Miranda replied that Rice was trying to get an attorney who would back her position.

Miranda said a friend who was going through a divorce and spent a million dollars to get the family dog.

"He never wanted the dog," Miranda said "He just didn’t want her to have it."

To which Murman replied, "You'll just have to read between the lines on that one."

Board members then agreed to hold an informal workshop to see if they can all get on the same page.

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.

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