Feb 17, 2003

Price Of Reclaimed Water Makes Officials Reconsider

By NEIL JOHNSON
njohnson@tampatrib.com

TAMPA - The cost of getting reclaimed water to the lush lawns of New Tampa and southern Pasco County, originally believed to be $40 million, now looks to be nearly twice that.

The price could hit $74 million.

Some of the increase comes from the popularity of the reclaimed water produced at Tampa's Howard F. Curren sewer plant. Everyone, it seems, wants a bit of it.

About 40 million gallons a day of reclaimed water would flow from the sewer plant at Tampa's port to New Tampa, Pasco and possibly parts of northwest Hillsborough County.

Residents in those growing areas could use the reclaimed water for sprinkling plants and sod and cut the amount of drinking water going to landscapes.

Pasco County is negotiating with Tampa for 10 million gallons of the water each day.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, wants some of the water to rehydrate areas drained by wellfield pumping.

And Tampa might use some to meet Swiftmud requirements for a minimum amount of fresh water downstream from the city's dam on the Hillsborough River.

``Each of those made the pipe either longer or larger,'' said Ralph Metcalf, director of Tampa's sewer department.

Those early estimates also were highly preliminary, said Metcalf, who called them ``back of an envelope'' numbers.

As engineers examine potential pipeline routes from the sewer plant to near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Interstate 75, they are finding additional costs.

``Everybody wants reclaimed water. The water is not very expensive. The delivery system is expensive,'' Metcalf said.

Just meeting the needs of New Tampa and fresh water for the river would cost about $50 million, Metcalf said.

The rising costs prompted Tampa to want Hillsborough and Pasco counties to commit to paying for a set amount of water - even if less was available each day or residents didn't use that much.

It was that ``take or pay'' provision that stalled negotiations between the county and city for Hillsborough to take about 7 million gallons a day of the reclaimed water.

It's necessary, Metcalf said, to provide a guaranteed amount of revenue to help repay bonds.

The increased cost has Pasco utility officials re-examining the skeletal agreement with Tampa for the water.

Their original share had been a quarter of the cost for a quarter of the supply. Pasco also would pay Tampa 65 cents for each 1,000 gallons of reclaimed water.

The rising cost could push Pasco's portion beyond what the county can pay without issuing bonds.

``There's only so much capital we can squeeze out without having to borrow or bond the money,'' said Bruce Kennedy, Pasco's utility director.

It also raises the question of whether the county can charge customers enough to repay the loans.

``You can't have the rate bump against the potable water rate,'' Kennedy said.

If the reclaimed water does not cost significantly less than drinking water, people won't use it on their lawns.

The city and Pasco are still not close to a detailed deal that can go to county commissioners and city council members.

But the rising cost is a concern.

``Where are you going to get the money? The cost is going to be very expensive,'' Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said.