Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is backing a bill that would privatize the water that is reclaimed by utilities. The legislation, which is sponsored by state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, would essentially redefine reclaimed waters and prohibit water management districts from requiring a permit for their use.
Current law states that all Florida waters — be they in a river, well or toilet — are public resources and under the jurisdiction of the state’s five water management districts.
Under Young’s bill, utility companies would still have to obtain a Consumptive Use Permit from a local water management district but, once they draw the water and use it, it would be theirs and no longer subject to additional permitting. According to environmentalists, this would make water a commodity, rather than a resource — a sentiment echoed by state lawmakers during a water policy committee meeting last month.
But Buckhorn, who collaborated on the bill with Young, believes that the measure would help expand his city’s reclaimed water system in order to ensure that Tampa residents have a reliable source of drinking water for years to come.
Buckhorn is the latest in a long line of Tampa leaders who has tried to find a use for the river of reclaimed water flowing from the city’s sewer plant on Hooker’s Point.
He wants to move the city’s reclaimed water use beyond its current 2.5 million gallons a day.
He wants to swap reclaimed water for the drinking water in thousands of sprinkler heads across the city. He is also open to offering it to the highest bidder for industrial or agricultural use, though he said he has no potential buyers.
Buckhorn also hasn’t given up on putting the reclaimed water back into the drinking supply, a process, dubbed “toilet to tap,” that Buckhorn conceded comes with an “ick” factor that must be overcome in order to work.
But those plans cost a lot.
So before he presses ahead, Buckhorn wants to be sure he has undisputed control over — and income from — all the treated wastewater, which he describes as “a manufactured product.”
Buckhorn, a Democrat, recently applauded Israel’s water usage practices, saying the Tampa Bay area could draw inspiration from the country.
“Some of the things they use to reuse water for, we could definitely use here in the Bay area, especially because of our drought conditions,” he said. “I think they only lose two percent of their water. Everything else is reused. They use it for irrigation. They use it for commercial usage. There is no waste there, because there’s so little water.”