YOU PAID FOR IT: Clearwater charges homeowners for reclaimed water, whether they use it or not

Wayne Miele pays for reclaimed water that he has never used.
Wayne Miele pays for reclaimed water that he has never used.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — In the City of Clearwater, 7,254 utility customers pay a combined total of more than $100,000 a month for reclaimed water, even though little more than half of them ever use a drop to keep their lawns green.

In other words, thousands of customers pay the city more than $595,000 a year for access to water they don’t use, don’t need, and in many cases aren’t even connected to for irrigation.

It’s a funding formula that irritates Wayne Miele, who pays $13.83 a month for reclaimed water “access” and a small tax on top of that, even though he’s not hooked up to the city’s reclaimed water system and doesn’t want to be, because he has his own private well.

Over the past seven years Miele estimates that’s cost him $1,050 more than the cost of his private well. “I don’t think it’s fair at all,” Miele said. “Because it’s paying for a product and a service I’m not using and never have used.”

Miele doesn’t have much choice under the city’s ordinances, according to City of Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli. “Everybody pays for it, for the infrastructure that was built around that neighborhood,” Castelli said. “And for the availability of water.”

Castelli tells 8 on Your Side that infrastructure costs for the reclaimed water system have to be spread around in order to make the system affordable, much like making every property owner pay a school tax whether they have kids or not. She insists that reclaimed water also has environmental benefits because it reduces strain on the aquifer and also adds value to properties that have access to it.

Castelli tells 8 On Your Side that Miele is one of a handful of people who complain about the fee structure every year, many of them on fixed incomes. She says concerned residents should contact the Clearwater Mayor or Council members directly here.

Clearwater residents now have the choice of opting into the system if 60 percent of homeowners in any given neighborhood decide they want reclaimed water service. But, back in 2009 , no one gave Miele that option after he had already spent $1,000 to install a private well to serve as the water source for his residential lawn irrigation. “I have an irrigation system in place and I’m not using the water that the city’s providing,” Miele said.

Pinellas County government charges a flat fee of $20 for every resident who has access to its reclaimed water system whether or not they use it. Clearwater bills customers the $13.83 monthly access fee and also charges an additional $1.15 per 1,000 gallons of use along with the 10 percent tax.

The City of Tampa charges $1.20 per 748 gallons (100 cubic feet)  for reclaimed water, but doesn’t require an access fee. In Tampa, you don’t use reclaimed water, you don’t pay for it. “I’m not sure about their system versus ours,” Castelli said.

In St. Petersburg, reclaimed water customers pay a flat fee and businesses are metered.

Miele insists it’s not the extra payment that shows up on his water bill that bothers him so much as the principal of being forced to pay for something he doesn’t use and never will. “Not a drop,” Miele said. “Not a drop.”

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