Reclaimed water could soon be coming out of Florida taps if a bill keeps moving through the legislative process. The legislation requires utilities to submit plans to clean Florida’s used water and make it drinkable.
The legislation is now ready for a full vote in the House.
During Tuesday’s floor Session in the House, the Senate companion bill (SB 64), which passed the upper chamber 39-0 in March, was substituted for the House bill.
Dade City Rep. Randy Maggard carried the legislation through the House.
Maggard offered an amendment Tuesday to make the Senate bill identical to the original House bill. The substance of the bill did not change. Many of Florida’s utilities companies will still be required to clean and reuse water, but the amendment gave the utility companies more time to put plans into action, added an exception for mobile home parks and added an incentive for the installation of graywater systems in new homes.
If passed and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, utilities would submit plans to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin “eliminating non-beneficial surface water discharges” by making that water safe to drink. It means used water, including sewage, would be cleaned and turned into drinking water, a practice colloquially referred to as toilet-to-tap, by 2032.
Florida already allows for reclaimed water usage but for limited purposes, such as watering lawns and other non-potable uses.
The bill also incentivizes the development of public-private toilet-to-tap projects by offering expedited permits and priority funding from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and water management district cooperative funding.
Additionally, utilities would have to apply for a permit for any new or expanded surface water discharge.
The goal of the bill is to add more water sources to keep up with water usage among Florida’s growing population, according to the bill’s analysis. Florida’s population is expected to grow 23% between 2020 and 2040, and the state’s water demands are expected to grow 15%, to 7.4 billion gallons per day.
Despite the legislative support so far, the bill could still raise some eyebrows. While reclaiming sewage for potable uses has been deemed safe, in some instances even safer than other water reclamation processes, it still carries a public ick-factor. The city of Tampa, for example, received public backlash when it first proposed a so-called toilet-to-tap program under former Mayor Bob Buckhorn. His successor, Mayor Jane Castor, ultimately scrapped it from her historic sewage plan. However, the city is again, quietly, considering the practice.
Former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed previous legislation seeking toilet-to-tap programs.
But this year’s legislation echoes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ prioritization of Florida’s water systems in past Sessions.
Last year, DeSantis signed the Clean Waterways Act (SB 712), and referred to the legislation as “probably the most comprehensive bill we’ve seen in quite some time” during a ceremonial signing in Juno Beach.