Is Florida Privatizing Its Public Water Resources?

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Republican state Rep. Dana Young are pushing legislation that would give ownership of drinking water and reclaimed wastewater—now a public resource, as is all water in the state—to the utility handling it, the Tampa Tribune reports.

Buckhorn argues that Tampa needs to increase its use of reclaimed water supplies, and that he could lower rates while reducing potential for rationed use in times of drought. And it's smart planning to be looking for ways to turn wastewater into a usable resource and to reduce water consumption overall. Buckhorn hopes the plan would see reclaimed water replace drinking-quality water in places like the thousands of lawn sprinklers around the city.

But there are also concerns about turning water into a private commodity rather than a public resource, and Tampa is far from the first to engage in this debate—though its stated objective may seem more justified than most similar cases. The Tribune says Buckhorn is not the first mayor to look for ways to ramp up use of reclaimed water.

The Florida Independent said about the bill:

Under Young’s bill, utility companies would still have to obtain a Consumptive Use Permit from a local water management district but, once they draw the water and use it, it would be theirs and no longer subject to additional permitting. According to environmentalists, this would make water a commodity, rather than a resource — a sentiment echoed by state lawmakers during a water policy committee meeting last month.

The Tribune explains more about opposition to the plan:

Critics say Buckhorn's proposal is the first step toward privatizing the state's water supply. They also say the proposal could turn the state's water cycle – from well to city supply and back – into a one-way street should utilities and other big users sell their wastewater instead of returning it to the environment.

"When that water is taken out of the aquifer, it could end up in China or Timbuktu or anywhere," said Charles Van Zant, a Republican state representative from Keystone Heights in Clay County. "Day by day by day this will destroy the Florida aquifer."

Tags: Florida | Water Conservation