Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Letter I presented in 2009 to Tampa City Council regarding the toxic reclaimed water program

I think all folks agree that the intent of Tampa's reclaimed water program is well-intended in this era of over-population and seemingly perennial drought and an increasing public awareness of the need for wise water use and re-use. But, sadly, due to the method used to recycle the water, high levels of sodium and chlorides contaminate the reclaimed water, making it toxic to a very large number of trees and other vascular plants that are classic Florida landscape fixtures.

I've noticed that Mr. Baird and Mr. Dingfelder, in spite of feed back from master gardeners, homeowners, landscapers and garden writers such as myself, seem to dismiss the data we present as "anectdotal" and keep repeating two erroneous statements as fact: "All one has to do is plant "Florida Friendly" plants" and that just "Dwarf azaleas, privets, camellias and gardenias" can be damaged or killed by Tampa's current reclaimed water."Florida Friendly Plants" is NOT synonymous with "salt tolerant" yet both Mr. Baird and Mr. Dingfelder repeat that mantra, perhaps in hopes that if they say that often enough either it will become a valid statement, or perhaps that Tampa homeowners and gardeners and landscapers will believe it.

With the city of Tampa proposing that $340 million taxpayer dollars be used to build two more reclaimed water plants that would produce even more of this water toxic to so many plants, all the while lamenting the low subscription rate to reclaimed water, I remind all parties that word of mouth in essence says "If you have an attractive landscape and wanted to see your trees and prrimary landscape plants and lawn suffer and/or die, sign up for the current reclaimed water for approx. $800 in connection fees". If this water was GOOD for plants, word of mouth would have people lining up for it.

Would you recommend to friends and relatives a brand of gasoline that damaged your car repeatedly, or a detergent that ruined your clothes, or a line of Chinese pet foods that killed your dogs and cats? Would you encourage homeowning and gardening friends to use a reclaimed water that damages NOT just the deceptively short list presented at the water department website but a GREAT many plants? (see the lists below of salt sensitive plants as presented by the University of Florida of Food and Agricultural Science).

Can you imagine a Tampa landscape devoid of all our classic shade trees (except for live oaks) and citrus and bananas and the many dozens of flowering tropical plants and vines that are archetypal "Florida Friendly" plants? I sure can't, and I could not be PAID to use this water on my yard at my retirement home in Sun Bay South, much less be FORCED to use it as Mr. Dingfelder keeps proposing!

The city of Santa Barbara, California long ago addressed these issues (see link) by using, as I have suggested before, UV to disinfect the water vs. using chlorine, which also turns out to be cheaper! Tampa has an historic opportunity to lead the way in America to recycle water in a way that saves taxpayer dollars AND benefits landscape plants vs. damaging and killing them. I like Mr. Baird's pointing out that reverse osmosis could make the reclaimed water potable and also safe for plants.....assuming his $100 million figure to add reverse osmosis technology to the current STAR plant is correct, I propose that Mayor Iorio and City Council take the bull by the horns and mandate that, and use the remaining $240 million to build a second reclaimed water facility of that same high caliber. To waste that $240 million on two more plants of the current type would be a classic, tragic example of "good money after bad".

To the average citizen, it all too often appears that our "public servants", in their pursuit of an agenda, prefer to not be confused by facts. The facts are simple: Tampa's current reclaimed water has such high levels of salt plus chlorides that even short term use results in many landscape plants manifesting "necrotic leaf tips and margins" as early symptoms of chlorine poisoning, which, along with sodium and salt toxicity, are why so many homeowners avoid this water like the plague. Who wants to spend years of time and money to create a landscape they enjoy and are proud of, only to watch it sicken and decline and die due to this reclaimed water that Mr. Dingfelder proposes they be FORCED to use?

It is my fervent hope that Mr. Baird, all of City Council, and Mayor Iorio LISTEN to what so many say about the reclaimed water and carefully read the list of salt sensitive plants below.
No prudent person can dismiss the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science as "anectdotal".

Does it make any sense for the city to be spending money to reforest Tampa, and to cite homeowners for trimming or cutting down trees while spending $340 million dollars to in effect, DE-forest Tampa chemically with this toxic water? Does it make any sense for many thousands of home and business landscapes to serve as points of entry into our precious aquifer of water with up to FIFTY times the natural background levels of chlorides, thus endangering privates wells and thus that sustain our orchards and farms?

Salt Sensitive "Florida Friendly" Trees, Shrubs, Perennials and Annuals
("N" = native to Florida). source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science
1. Bald Cypress- N
2. Silver Dollar Eucalyptus
3. Bottle Brush Tree
4. Citrus, all types
5. Loblolly Bay- N
6. American Holly- N
7. Dogwood- N
8. Coral Tree- N
9. Jerusalem Thorn
11.Silver Maple- N
12.American Hornbeam- N
13.Pignut Hickory- N
15.Redbud- N
16.Fringe Tree- N
17.Green Ash
18. LusterLeaf Holly-
19.Round Holly
21.Long Leaf Pine- N
22. West Indian Cherry- N
23.Red Maple- N
24.Spruce Pine- N
25.Water Oak
26. Princewood- N
27.Guettarda- N
28.Lancewood- N
29.Sycamore- N
30.Laurel Oak- N
31.Turkey Oak
32.Chickasaw Pum- N
33.Crape Myrtle
34.Sweet Gum
35.Sweet Bay- N
36.Tupelo- N
38.Chinese Pistache
39.Oriental Aborvitae
40.Cherry Laurel
41.Florida Basswood- N
42.Coastal Plain Willow-N
43.Red Buckeye- N
44.River Birch- N
45.Water Hickory- N
47.White Cedar
48.Hawthornes- N
49.Swamp Chestnut Oak- N
50.Winged Elm- N
51.Lusterleaf Holly
53.Red Mulberry
54.Sugar Berry- N
55.Shuman Oak- N
56.Silver Bell
57.Tulip Tree
58.Sourwood- N
59.Pond Pine- N
60.Water Elm
61.Bluff Oak- N
62.Turkey Oak
63.Florida Nutmeg
65. Florida Sugar Maple- N
66.Sparkle Berry- N
67.Florida Tulip Tree- N
*note- 38 are native to Florida

source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science
1. Banana
2. Papaya
3. Ajuga
4. Earth Star
5. Holly Fern
6. Carolina Jessamine
7. Partridge Berry
8. Ginger, all types
9. Boston Fern
12.Philodendron, all types
13.Wandering Jew
14.Shrimp Plant
15.Calathea (Prayer Plants)
19.Dwarf Azalea
20.Formosa Azalea

1. Coral Vine
2. Beaumontia
3. Trumpet Creeper
4. Clerodendron
5. Painted Trumpet
6. Garlic Vine
7. Cardinal Creeper
8. Pandorea
9. Passion Fruit
12.Rangoon Creeper
13.Chalice Vine
14.Costa Rican Nightshade
15.Jade Vine
16.Thunbergia grandiflora
18.Grape Ivy

1. Coleus
2. Impatiens
3. Godetia
4. Vinca
5. Peperomia
6. Pansy
7. Salvia
8. Torenia
9. Verbena

1. Beans
2. Carrots
3. Okra
4. Onion
5. Strawberry
6. Peaches
7. Plums 

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