River Board hears Tampa’s proposal to re-use wastewater in the river

people in canoeMay 2021 – As reported in last month’s article, PURE, which stands for Purify Usable Resources for the Environment, is a proposed water infrastructure project which Tampa hopes will result in environmental and water resource benefits. If approved, the city will redirect up to 50 million gallons per day of highly treated reclaimed water that would otherwise be discharged into Hillsborough Bay from the City’s Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

PURE will treat reclaimed water to meet and exceed drinking water standards. The purified water will then be pumped into the Floridan Aquifer via a series of recharge wells. This will create a freshwater “bubble” that will function as a buffer against brackish water and saltwater intrusion that threaten our freshwater supplies in the aquifer and Sulphur Springs. This purified water will eventually be extracted from the ground via a different set of wells called recovery wells. The water—which will now have gone through multiple purification processes—will then be added to the Hillsborough River Reservoir.

The project will provide an additional source of freshwater to meet minimum flow requirements for the Lower Hillsborough River and Sulphur Springs. The minimum flow standard ensures that the river remains healthy and capable of sustaining healthy habitats for local fish and wildlife. The project is also intended to create a saltwater intrusion barrier to help safeguard freshwater resources, such as Sulphur Springs, which has become increasingly saline. Nutrients that may be present in the treated reclaimed water will also no longer be discharged into Hillsborough Bay.  When the treated reclaimed water is not needed for river flow it will be blended in the reservoir and withdrawn for Tampa drinking water supply.

At this early stage in the proposed project, the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Friends of the River environmental group have issued letters of caution outlining concerns and questions regarding the need, safety and appropriateness of the project. Concerns raised include the short- and long-term health effect on the residents of Tampa that would drink the reclaimed water; how the reclaimed effluent will affect the aquifer; and whether there is a need for the project or if there are better alternative projects.

Chuck Webber, with the City of Tampa, presented this project to the Hillsborough River Board (River Board) at their April 20 joint meeting with their Technical Advisory Council.  The River  Board’s Technical Advisory Council (TAC) heard a similar presentation from Mr. Webber the previous month and took action to advise the River Board the following:  “The Hillsborough River Board TAC acknowledges and appreciates the City of Tampa including the Hillsborough River Board as a valued stakeholder for the Hillsborough River system. The TAC supports the activities presented by the water department to study, analyze, and evaluate technical reports with the help of outside industry experts. We look forward to reviewing these results, when available and appropriate, to aid our discussions regarding a formal recommendation to the Hillsborough River Board.”

A number of TAC and River Board members had several questions regarding the project.  With some answers pending from independent technical review, the River Board did not take any action with regard to the project at this time. It is expected that as the City of Tampa completes technical analysis and independent review, the River Board will again discuss the merits of the proposed project and possibly take action to make a statement and/or recommendation in the future.

Source: City of Tampa

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