Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn knows various jurisdictions and private interests would love to seize control of the city's reclaimed water. Lawmakers, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and private companies have all targeted the roughly 55 million gallons of treated wastewater that the city dumps into Tampa Bay each day.
The city, to be sure, can be faulted for not better utilizing the reclaimed water, which is safe for irrigation and other uses.
But the mayor puts the issue in the proper perspective: "Folks are trying to tell us what to do with our asset, … we paid for it."
The city intends to pipe the water to more neighborhoods for lawn irrigation, which will reduce demand for potable water, since about 40 percent of the average household's water use goes to watering a lawn.
But this will take time and money. Tampa should not have to worry about another party using its Tallahassee influence to hijack the resource.
A bill proposed by Tampa state Rep. Dana Young would ensure that could not happen. It clarifies that reclaimed water belongs to its producers, not the state. Environmentalists raise some legitimate concerns, but the thrust of the bill is correct.
The issue involves more than Tampa. The policy would encourage the use of reclaimed water, and that's important. As Young says, no municipality or private interest is going to commit to reclaimed-water projects if they can't be sure they will have control of the treated water they produce.
"This will give the predictability and certainty needed to invest in such systems," the representative says.
Natural water is rightly controlled by the state. Cities, farmers and other major users must obtain a permit from the state's water districts for the amount they may take.
This is necessary to protect wetlands, rivers, lakes, bays and the underground water supply.
If anyone's water withdrawals are harming the environment, the permit-process is the appropriate place to address it. Environmentalists understandably worry that the change could allow municipalities to sell or otherwise use the water without regard for how the reduction in discharges would effect the environment. For instance, Tampa's discharges of cleaned fresh water benefit Tampa Bay. Other treated water flows into the Everglades. That is a worry, but it could be addressed in the original permit, which could ensure adequate discharges.
Young says the jurisdiction question is simple: "It's not a water of the state for the four days it's in the pipes."
The state should be able to protect the environment without confiscating the processed water.
The state does often help pay for local reclaimed projects, and it can set conditions on the water use. But that's different than taking control.
Tampa, you can be sure, will better use its reclaimed water. City Councilman Charlie Miranda has been emphasizing the need to do so for years.
But, as this legislation recognizes, the decision over when and how to use it should be made by the city's elected officials.