Published: April 6, 2018

    City of Tampa Really Wants to Add Wastewater to the Water Supply

    We have recently covered the water quality and water shortage concerns in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and the surrounding Florida area. A booming population and ever-shrinking supplies of fresh water have limited Tampa’s ability to deliver consistently high-quality drinking water to its citizens.

    At least once per year Tampa citizens report a bad smell or rotten taste in the area’s water. As ABC Action News reported last year, an algae bloom in the primary water reservoir supplying Tampa residents with drinking water worsened the water quality. The resulting bad taste caused many residents to complain to local authorities. Citizens described water that “smell[ed] like fertilizer” and was “undrinkable.”

    The city of Tampa has publicly supported a controversial plan in order to increase overall level of the water supply. This plan would drastically increase the amount of water available to citizens of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and the surrounding area. If successful the plan would drought-proof the city in theory.

    However, there is one major problem with the plan. Authorities are trying to reintroduce highly treated wastewater back into reservoirs. In essence, water where citizens have defecated would be recycled into the drinking water supply. Tampa and Hillsborough County have both been pushing for legislation that would allow them to do exactly this.

    Though the average citizen may find this alarming, it is not the first plan of its kind. In fact, many municipalities already have implemented this practice, including cities in Israel and California. If enacted the plan would add up to 55 million gallons of treated wastewater into Tampa’s water supply per day.

    Here’s how it would work: currently, the Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant dumps approximately 50 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay each day. This water would be rerouted through a pipeline that would deposit the wastewater 9 miles north, in the Floridan Aquifer.

    The water would be pumped into the aquifer 900 feet below ground, and would be pumped back up at a height of 300 feet below ground. Supporters of this plan argue that the wastewater would undergo natural treatment as it traveled 600 feet through the aquifer. Half of the water recovered from the aquifer would then be sent to the David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility, where it would be treated further and then used as drinking water.

    The proposed plan would bring many benefits to Tampa, a city that has long been running out of fresh water for its residents. However, the plan has been blocked multiple times by the Tampa Bay Water utility for financial reasons. Tampa Bay Water’s representatives claim that enacting the wastewater plan would “endanger the utility’s survival” and “put its nearly $900 million bonded debt in jeopardy.”

    One huge question still looming in the minds of Tampa and St. Petersburg residents: will the water be safe to drink? Though the wastewater will undergo treatment before being reintroduced in the water supply, residents won’t know the actual cleanliness of the water until the plan is implemented.