Tampa should not waste money on recycling attempt

Tampa is under the strictest water regulations in the state. A new plan to recycle wastewater could help alleviate the drought, but the Bay area has already seen too many expensive, problematic water projects.

Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda wants Tampa voters to approve a plan to recycle wastewater from sewers and turn it into drinking water. The city would build a treatment plant to purify water and inject it into the ground so that it could filter into the Hillsborough River, the primary source of drinking water for Tampa.

While it seems like a good idea, it may be too expensive to be feasible. Ralph Metcalf, director of Tampa’s wastewater department, said to the Tampa Tribune such a project could cost more than $150 million.

Some may have concerns about turning sewage water into drinking water. Wastewater is purified enough for agricultural purposes, but not for human consumption.

A 2005 U.S. Geological Survey of reclaimed water from the Howard F. Curren Wastewater Treatment Plant in Tampa found 27 different kinds of pollutants that made it through the filtration, including estrogens and steroids.

More than 55 million gallons of this treated water is dumped into Tampa Bay every day.

Tampa provides reclaimed water to only 3,100 residents in South Tampa for their lawns. The city is considering expanding the system, but that would cost an estimated $341 million.

Something must be done with all the wastewater, but Tampa needs to think twice before sinking millions into a project that may be a nightmare to implement. The city can learn a lesson from Tampa Bay Water, which built the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in June 2005 for $140 million.

The expensive reservoir was designed to hold 15 billion gallons of water to service the Bay area during dry spells. Yet four years after construction, it has been drained, and cracks in the reservoir will cost Tampa Bay Water $125 million to fix.

Then there’s the desalination plant that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. It opened in 2003 – five years late and $40 million over budget. The plant then shut down for expensive repairs until 2008.

The plant, designed to produce 25 million gallons of fresh water a day, has seldom run at full capacity. In March, production was hindered when a $90,000 transformer blew, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Combating the water shortage is a noble goal, but Tampa needs to take into account the inherent problems and rising costs associated with these projects. Now is not the best time for such an ambitious endeavor.