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Clearwater's plan to turn wastewater to drinking water is on hold

After 10 years of study and a $6.2 million investment, Clearwater has the design and permits to break ground. But construction on the cutting edge plant is stalled due to costs.

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay’s third largest city was supposed to be the first in the state to treat wastewater beyond drinking standards and inject it into the Floridan aquifer so it would make its way back into the drinking supply.

The endeavor began in 2009 with a feasibility study, then a pilot facility that tested the technology for a year. By 2016 Clearwater was the first in Florida to design a full-scale groundwater replenishment facility, modeling it on a similar pioneering plant that launched in Orange County, Calif, in 2008.

Now after 10 years and an investment of $6.2 million, Clearwater has the final design and all permits needed to break ground, still ahead of any other city in the state.

But higher-than-expected building and operation costs have delayed construction indefinitely, making Clearwater the first to be stalled by the expense and unfamiliar terrain of what could be the next frontier of drinking water in Florida. Just building the plant is now expected to cost nearly $7 million more than what was estimated three years ago.