Tempers mount in St. Pete over Tampa's plan to turn wastewater into drinking water
ST. PETERSBURG — Distrust and frustration are mounting on both sides of the bay over plans by the city of Tampa to produce up to 50 million gallons a day of drinking water from treated wastewater by pumping it into the Floridan aquifer.
St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice said a push by Mayor Bob Buckhorn to get the project approved has more to do with the departing mayor’s legacy than it does with the best interests of her city.
Tampa is seeking approval to proceed with the $350 million project from the regional water authority, Tampa Bay Water.
“We’re getting the shaft,” Rice said Tuesday during an editorial board meeting at the Tampa Bay Times. She said Tampa isn’t sharing all the possible costs and risks associated with converting wastewater to drinking water and that more time is needed to vet the project.
In October, the Tampa Bay Water board — made up of three elected officials each from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — voted to delay approval of a project sometimes referred to as toilet to tap.
Buckhorn said Tuesday that Rice, a member of the Tampa Bay Water board, is “wrong on all counts.”
“For somebody who is known as being an environmentalist, we’re all a little surprised at her unreasonableness on this,” Buckhorn said. “We’ve been at this since 2013. It’s been fleshed out. It’s going to allow the partners to have even more water, it will drought-proof the city of Tampa permanently and it’s the wave of the future."
Tampa has provided its studies and documents to anyone who has asked, said Tampa Water Director Chuck Weber. Further delays might risk millions of dollars in Southwest Florida Water Management District funds to help build the necessary infrastructure.
The 50 million gallons of highly treated wastewater now is dumped into Tampa Bay.