Advice from Texas officials for Tampa after councilors push back on water reuse project

Texas leaders offer advice to Tampa officials as the city explores ways to reuse sewage water.

A visual sweep of the arid plains of West Texas reveals plenty of land, though not much water.

Tampa gets 50 inches of rain per year, while the area around Big Spring, TX gets only about 20 inches.

"We needed to find an alternative water supply," stated John Womack, of the Colorado River Municipal Water District.

The district supplies water to nine cities full of 600,000 people from lakes and reservoirs.

In 2008, they had enough of flushing that water down the drain.

"We thought, why can't we reuse that water?" Womack asked.

They spent five years planning and building the first system in the US to treat used water and put it back into the chain that supplies treatment plants in individual cities.

"The public's perception is kind of funny at first. They're kind of skittish about it. Think about what you're doing," said Womack. "And I have never had not one person not believe in not believe in it. Once they see the plant."

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Tampa's officials would like to sprinkle some of that around, after seeing public speakers say no to even just studying the idea of treating and re-using sewage as part of the city's "PURE" project.

"How will it be made safe for my granddaughter to drink?" asked one public speaker.

In ten years, the state will require Tampa to stop discharging 60 million gallons of water a day.

Still, city councilors voted down part of a contract dealing with public education and said they wanted answers to seventeen questions before going further.

"I want ‘PURE’ to go away," said councilor Lynn Hurtak. "I have said that from the first time, no for ‘PURE’. No."

Officials in West Texas say their advice is to be transparent about the process and the potential benefits.

Though the two million gallons a day they re-use is only three percent of their total system, they consider it step one.

"This gave us an end to learn what's involved in actually processing water," said Womack. "And it will and it's it has answered a lot of questions for us so that we can maybe do some more of this in the future."

Tampa is examining five options including sending the reused water into the Hillsborough River, down into the aquifer and even potentially making it drinkable.