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Richard Danielson
By Richard Danielson March 29, 2012

City gets federal grant, more control over reclaimed water

As a candidate, Bob Buckhorn promised to fight in Washington and Tallahassee to expand what the city used to call its STAR -- or South Tampa Area Reclaimed -- water program. As mayor, he's done a little more tussling in Tallahassee, but has progress to show on both fronts.

During the 2012 legislative session, Buckhorn enlisted the help of state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, to push a bill designed to bolster the city's ability to control how its reclaimed water is used. That would help the city go to the bond market and borrow money at favorable interest rates to expand its reclaimed system.

Young's bill was written to give the city ownership of the reclaimed water that it created by treating waste water. But environmentalists and other critics, including former governor and senator Bob Graham, predicted the bill could set a bad precedent. They said reclaimed water, like other water in Florida, is a resource that historically has been and should continue to be controlled by the state.

Opponents contended that if the bill passed as written, Florida citizens would lose that control, and local governments or utility companies could, for example, use water going to the Everglades for new development.

In response, Young agreed to change the bill to forbid water management districts, which control water for the state, from forcing cities and utilities to give away water that they pay to treat.

It's a compromise Buckhorn said will give the city the assurance it needs to expand the system.

"The fact that we can control the destiny of that resource is a good thing for us,” Buckhorn told PolitiFact Florida on Feb. 28, 2012.

On March 16, the city announced that the certainty provided by passage of Young's bill meant that the city could expand its system without worrying whether the state would unilaterally require it to redirect its reclaimed water.

As a result, the city said it would move ahead with expanding the reclaimed system to homes along Bayshore Boulevard between Rome and Howard avenues. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant for $291,000 will pay for part of the work, and the city will cover the remaining $309,600 of the cost.

Although the city applied for the federal grant in June 2011, three months after Buckhorn took office, he said in the PolitiFact Florida interview that he believes that the days of federal funding for reclaimed water "have come and gone.”

Still, Buckhorn said the city should continue to seek state and even corporate support for expanding its reclaimed water system. He also said the city should look at how it prices reclaimed water to make it more attractive to prospective users, such as big commercial properties in West Shore that have not hooked up.

"I just want to give them an offer they can't refuse,” Buckhorn said.

The city does have another expansion of the reclaimed water system on the way. On April 5, the City Council will consider an agreement with the Tampa Port Authority to extend a reclaimed water line to Port Sutton to serve Port Authority tenants. The extension would be paid for by the Port Authority, which is scheduled to consider the agreement on April 17.

If Buckhorn does succeed in finding new reclaimed customers and sources of funding, he will be building on steps that he promised to take during the campaign. Buckhorn said he would fight in Tallahassee and Washington for funding to expand the system. His administration landed a federal grant and has seen the passage of a bill in the state Legislature that he said will put the city in a better position to expand its system. Buckhorn acknowledges there is more work to do, but he already has taken the kind of steps he said he would. We rate this Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Interview with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Feb. 28, 2012

Email interviews with Ali Glisson, city director of public affairs, March 27-28, 2012, and Brad Baird, water department director, March 28, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn pushes water privatization proposal that has its critics, Jan. 18, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, Under pressure from environmentalists, water privatization proposal scrapped, Feb. 2, 2012

City of Tampa, news release, March 16, 2012, accessed March 27, 2012

Florida House of Representatives, Final Bill Analysis, Bill CS/HB 639, accessed March 27, 2012

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