PURE

A Sustainable Water Alternative for Tampa

Because water is too precious to use just once.

The PURE Project: An Overview

What is PURE?

The PURE (Purify Usable Resources for the Environment) Project is a proposed water recycling project.

Under PURE, the City will redirect up to 50 million gallons per day (MGD) of highly treated reclaimed water from the City’s Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant that would otherwise be discharged into Hillsborough Bay. The water will be purified to exceed federal and state drinking water standards and repurposed for beneficial use.

Securing a Sustainable Water Alternative for Tampa and Our Regional Partners

With PURE, the City is looking to address three critical challenges.

  1. Designing a sustainable, long-term solution for providing freshwater to maintain minimum flows on the Lower Hillsborough River. Minimum flows help sustain healthy habitats for fish and wildlife below the Hillsborough Dam, particularly during months with little to no rainfall and helps ensure the continued health of the river.  

  2. Securing Tampa’s drinking water source during droughts by increasing the reliability of the drinking water supply. Our region is not immune to a changing climate that is causing dramatic fluctuations in the availability of water and can exacerbate droughts. A prolonged drought (such as what happened in 2006-2009) would make it harder for both Tampa, and our regional partners, to meet the water supply needs of our customers.

  3. Complying with new state legislation that restricts discharges into Hillsborough Bay. In 2021, the Florida State Legislature passed new legislation, specifically Senate Bill 64, which requires that the discharge of reclaimed water into surface water bodies, such as Hillsborough Bay, be reduced or eliminated by no later than 2032.

Protecting Sulphur Springs and Healthy River Flows
Protecting our water resources

How would PURE work?

The PURE project is still under development. The City is examining the best options for reusing the City’s reclaimed water to benefit its customers and protect the environment. To this end, an experienced engineering consulting firm was selected to conduct additional analyses and guide the decision making.

The following options are currently under consideration:

  • Pumping water down into the aquifer, which is called recharging the aquifer, and withdrawing it during the dry season, also called recovery of the water.
  • Adding the water created during the PURE process to the Hillsborough River Reservoir.
  • Selling reclaimed water to another water utility.
  • Sending reclaimed water deep underground using deep well injection.
  • Treating reclaimed water to drinking water standards and adding it directly into the drinking water supply.
  • Adding treated reclaimed water to the base of the Hillsborough River Dam to maintain healthy river flows to the Lower Hillsborough River.

FAQs for PURE

PURE is an environmental restoration project that provides a holistic and sustainable approach for managing Tampa’s water resources. PURE will use safe, effective water reuse technologies to restore flows to the Lower Hillsborough River and to help Tampa become water resilient.

This water reuse project will help Tampa to become water resilient by addressing several critical needs. First, the City needs to restore and enhance the natural habitats of the fish and wildlife that depend on fresh water from the Hillsborough River. This is a requirement under state law and is becoming increasingly hard to meet from current water sources. The City must also comply with a new state law that requires the elimination of the discharge of treated reclaimed water into Hillsborough Bay. Instead, a beneficial use of this water must be developed. Finally, the PURE project could significantly increase the reliability of the City being able to withdraw water from its reservoir even during dry times.

PURE will protect the Hillsborough River by maintaining healthy river flows. A steady flow of fresh water is critical for sustaining the river's thriving ecosystem, which provides safe habitats for fish and wildlife.

PURE can also help Tampa become more resilient to climate impacts by providing a sustainable source of water to be stored in the Hillsborough River Reservoir, which is Tampa’s primary source of drinking water.

PURE is one of many efforts – including maintaining a continued focus on water conservation – that the Water Department is taking to ensure its customers have a reliable source of safe drinking water for generations to come.

The Hillsborough River Reservoir is Tampa’s primary water supply source. This project would recharge the local aquifer by storing water could be recovered for use in the Hillsborough River Reservoir during dry times and drought.

During periods of low rainfall and drought, the water levels in the reservoir have dropped below 19 feet multiple times over the last 20 years. This restricts the water supply available to the City of Tampa. During these times, the Southwest Florida Water Management District has imposed more stringent water use restrictions to protect the river.

The PURE project is still under development. The City is examining the best options for reusing the City’s reclaimed water to benefit its customers and protect the environment. To this end, an experienced engineering consulting firm was selected to conduct additional analyses and guide the decision making.

The following options are currently under consideration:

  • Pumping water down into the aquifer, which is called recharging the aquifer, and withdrawing it during the dry season, also called recovery of the water.
  • Adding the water created during the PURE process to the Hillsborough River Reservoir.
  • Selling reclaimed water to another water utility.
  • Sending reclaimed water deep underground using deep well injection.
  • Treating reclaimed water to drinking water standards and adding it directly into the drinking water supply.

Yes. The Water Department has always been committed to ensuring that the City’s drinking water exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. Continually improving its operations to ensure safe, reliable high-quality water is provided to customers is the core mission of the Water Department.

The exact configuration of the PURE project has not yet been determined. However, any reclaimed water that would be added to the drinking water supply will go through additional treatment processes to ensure that it is safe to drink.

Yes. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regulates the water quality of Florida’s waters including ground and surface waters such as rivers, lakes, and bays. Therefore, the City will be working closely with FDEP to ensure that this project meets regulations and is beneficial for the environment.

Another potential benefit from the implementation of PURE will be improving the water quality in Sulphur Springs and potentially increasing its flow. This would happen because the City would not need to rely on the springs as a source of water to meet the minimum flow for the Lower Hillsborough River as it does now. PURE would provide that source and relieve the environmental stress on Sulphur Springs.

The FDEP as well as the Florida Department of Health are responsible for regulating water reuse projects like PURE.

Conservation has played an important role in our water supply plan for over 30 years. Our strong conservation measures have helped reduce our per capita demand (how much water each person uses per day) by half during that time.

Starting in 2023, the Water Department will begin converting customer meters to a wireless metering system. This water meter upgrade will create even more opportunities for conservation. Customers will be able to discover leaks more quickly and keep track of how much water they are using. The department will also be better able to identify leaks within its distribution system.

  • During 2022-2024, the City will expand public outreach to provide information about the PURE project and increase the public’s understanding of water reuse and the beneficial uses of reclaimed water. Project designs will be developed during this time incorporating public input. The project will be submitted for the permitting. This requirement ensures full compliance with applicable federal and state regulations.
  • When permitting is completed, construction will begin in 2024 and continue through 2031 when the City expects the project to be operational. Public outreach activities will continue and will remain an important part of this project.

Making sure that the City can continue to provide high-quality water at an affordable rate is very important. That is why we have been actively working to secure grant funding to pay for portions of the capital facility costs and to minimize rate impacts from the project.

The potential costs associated with this project will depend on the selected configuration of this project. See “How will PURE work?” Once we’ve selected the specific components of the project, such as the additional treatment technologies we will use to achieve the project goals, we can further refine how much the project will cost. Any potential impact on water rates will be identified by summer 2023.

Despite the potential for a rate increase, it’s important to note that the City of Tampa has historically maintained the lowest water and wastewater rates in the region.

Water bill bar graph comparison

 

The cost for designing and building the PURE project will depend on which approach is selected for reusing our reclaimed water. The various options under consideration are listed in “How will PURE work?” The estimated capital costs for the various alternatives range from $484 million to $628 million.

The project will be paid through a combination of grants and water rate revenues. The Tampa Water Department is actively working to secure grant funding to pay for portions of the capital costs and to minimize rate impacts. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has already agreed to fund a portion of the initial project funding.

Construction for PURE would be located on existing city-owned properties. A proposed construction and site plan should be available for review by Summer 2023.

As one of six member governments, the City of Tampa relies on Tampa Bay Water to provide additional water on an as needed basis.

One of the main goals of PURE is to restore the ecological health of the Hillsborough River. This does not change the existing interlocal agreement between the member governments. In fact, by replenishing the Hillsborough River Reservoir, the PURE project should help reduce the strain on regional water supplies.

No. Sinkholes typically form when the limestone underneath Florida’s landscape erodes. This process, which is generally part of a slow, natural process can be triggered by human activities such as pumping out too much groundwater or drilling new wells. PURE does not withdraw more water for recovery than the City would have added into the aquifer.

We will be expanding our public outreach to meet with neighborhood associations, community groups, and other stakeholders to gather public input. Opportunities such as neighborhood meetings, surveys, and presentations to a variety of organizations will also let the City hear from you.

The Water Department has held regular meetings with members of environmental organizations such as the local chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of the River, and the League of Women Voters. These efforts—which remain ongoing—provide an invaluable opportunity to work collaboratively to address important issues and share project updates.

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Updated: 09/12/2022