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What Is Tampa’s Toilet to Tap Plan?

Fiol Law Group|Posted in Safety on January 23, 2019

Tampa’s Toilet to Tap Plan refers to the controversial building of a new type of water treatment plant in Tampa Bay. The plant would recycle wastewater into drinkable water that would be, according to city officials, higher quality than bottled water.

However, at a recent meeting concerning the Toilet to Tap Plan, Pasco County officials expressed concerns about the issue. It would allow Tampa to develop its own water supply, but officials are unsure of the necessity of the new plant, or its long-term effects on the water system. The plan would need agreement from the board of Tampa Bay Water to go into effect.

How Does Toilet to Tap Work?

The Toilet to Tap Plan engages a three-step process to turn wastewater into potable drinking water in Tampa Bay. The first step is to take and treat wastewater from homes in the Bay. The treatment process of the wastewater would bring it to a level better than the current quality standards for drinking water. The advanced water plant would then inject the treated wastewater down into the aquifer for additional purification, where it will combine with natural water and become a normal part of the region’s drinking water source.

Despite the nickname the plan has earned, the recycling process involves many steps between water in a toilet and water coming from the tap. Treating the wastewater starts with filtering out solids. Then, reverse osmosis removes miniscule particles remaining in the water. Ultraviolet light then sterilizes the water to kill any microbes it may contain. This results in water in a very pure state – even more so than water retrieved from rivers and other natural water sources. The treated water then blends with natural water down in the earth’s aquifers.

Passing the plan would make Tampa the first city in Florida to utilize recycled wastewater in this way. Similar processes are already happening in other parts of the world. Many other cities have already incorporated treated and recycled wastewater into their typical water supplies. It is a way for cities to achieve greater sustainability – something that is becoming more important each year. One chemical engineer from the University of Melbourne says a city can reduce its water demand by 60% by recycling its wastewater.

Arguments For and Against the Plan

One of the main arguments for the Toilet to Tap Plan is the amount of water it would save Tampa Bay. It would safeguard the area’s water resources by allowing Tampa Bay to supply its own water source. This could free up much-needed resources for nearby counties. Officials in Tampa also say it would help the environment, not only by saving water, but by eliminating nutrients the water currently deposits into the bay from the Howard F. Curren sewage plant.

The advanced wastewater treatment plant would also prevent Tampa Bay from having to erect a $35 million infrastructure to supply Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough Counties with water. It would improve Tampa Bay’s drinkable water levels and reduce the level of saltwater intrusion in the aquifers. Construction is ready to begin in Tampa Bay, if the plan receives enough support and the city can get its permits approved. Yet the board has yet to decide on the matter, and at a meeting in December 2018 elected to pick the subject back up in February 2019.

An argument against it is that people in the Bay simply will not want to drink recycled wastewater. A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a survey on the subject. Almost half (49%) of the 2,000 respondents said they were willing to try the recycled water, 13% refused, and the remaining 38% were not sure. Some authorities in Tampa are afraid citizens will not be able to overcome the fact that the water used to be wastewater, even if scientifically the water is clean and safe to drink.

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