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Clearwater to be pioneer in injecting treated wastewater into aquifer

Seven years ago, just the suggestion of transforming Clearwater's treated sewage into drinking water was an idea that got then-Mayor Frank Hibbard stopped in the grocery store.

"Is this being done anywhere else, are we the guinea pig?" he remembers residents asking. "There's a yuck factor there."

At the time, taking reclaimed water used to irrigate lawns and golf courses and purifying it to drinking standards was a relatively rare technology.

But recognizing the benefits, the city pursued it.

Now, after seven years of study, Clearwater has become the first city in Florida, and one of only a handful in the United States, to launch a design phase for a groundwater replenishment facility that will not only purify wastewater, but inject it back underground.

Engineering firm Tetra Tech has begun designing the $28.6 million plant, and city officials estimate it could be running by 2018 after design, permitting, and construction is completed.

And while the technology has been dubbed "toilet to tap" by skeptical communities that were pioneers, Clearwater officials are planning a public relations campaign to show that stigma is a complete misnomer.