- [Presenter] This is a production of WEDU PBS, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Sarasota.
(tranquil music) - [Newscaster] Coming up next on WEDU, the Tampa city election is March 7th, and one of the big issues is the Pure program, or Toilet to Tap.
We'll discuss what it is, and why some are opposed to it.
The governor travels out of state to boast about Florida's economy and crime record, and students walk out to protest book banning, censorship, and the government's new education policies.
All this and more, next, on "Florida This Week."
(uplifting music) (uplifting music continues) - Welcome back, the Tampa city elections are only a few days away, with the mayoral and most city council seats up for grabs.
- [Newscaster] Incumbent Mayor Jane Castor faces only a write-in opponent.
Perhaps the most controversial issue in this election is the future of what the mayor calls the PURE, or Purify Natural Resources for the Environment program.
Opponents call it Toilet to Tap.
Right now, the City of Tampa dumps about 50 million gallons a day of its treated wastewater into Tampa Bay.
However, that will have to end under a state law, which requires the city to stop dumping, starting in the year 2032.
Instead of putting it in the bay, one option would be to clean the reclaimed water to a higher degree, inject it into the underground aquifer, and then, when needed, pump it into the drinking water reservoir on the Hillsborough River.
That plan has drawn criticism from environmentalists, and even the local Young Republicans who produced this video.
- Have you ever flushed your toilet and thought to yourself, "I'd really like to drink that someday"?
Well, now, thanks to Jane Castor, that dream can become a reality.
Jane Castor's Toilet to Tap program has been shut down numerous times, and opposed by just about every environmental group in the state.
I can't imagine why.
But thankfully, Jane is gonna make this project her number one, or should I say, number two, priority, for you, me, and our families.
- Mommy, can I drink my potty water yet?
- [Newscaster] Mayor Castor made her own video, defending the Pure program.
- Hi, Mayor Jane here.
I wanna clear up a few myths I'm hearing about Tampa's water.
One, there is no plan to put sewage into our drinking water.
Two, there is no $6 billion water project in the works, period.
Here's the truth.
We have an obligation as a community to ensure that Tampa has safe, clean, and sustainable water, and to protect our environment for our children's future, for decades to come.
That's what we're pursuing with a project known as Pure.
If you believe that we need to plan ahead to meet our water needs, you support Pure.
- Whomever is elected to the Tampa City Council will have a big say over the future of the Pure program.
And joining us to discuss it, Whit Remer is the Sustainability and Resilience Officer for the City of Tampa, and Phil Compton is a representative of Friends of the Hillsborough River.
Thank you both for joining us.
Great to see you.
- Thanks, Rob.
- Great to be here.
- Whit, the mayor says that Pure is not a specific project.
It's a process to evaluate potential solutions needed to address the city's environmental water resource challenges.
At what stage are we at in this Pure process?
- Well, just to reiterate, Pure is a series of studies and proposed solutions to address several environmental and water supply needs that this city will face over the next 50 to 100 years.
So, we are still very much at a place where we are studying the drivers, or the things that are causing us to have to look at water reuse and potential options.
And we still have a lot of questions to answer, including what to do with our wastewater, and how to address other issues further upstream in the reservoir and on the river.
So we're still very much in a study phase, and there is no project right now to put any type of reclaimed water or sewage water in any type of drinking water system.
- And I think you would object to the pictures in that Republican video of brown water being in the Tampa drinking water supply.
You brought two samples of what the water might look like.
- Yeah, that's right.
In fact, this is a jar of reclaimed water.
After the Howard F. Curren Wastewater Treatment Facility is finished cleaning up your wastewater that you flushed out the toilet, this is the byproduct of this, and this is the water that is discharged into the Seddon Channel, that the cruise ships kinda just run over.
This is fresh water that has some nitrogen still in it, and probably some other pathogens that would need to be cleaned even further if we were gonna reintroduce them into another beneficial use in the environment.
But right now, this is what comes out of the Howard F. Curren Treatment Plant.
It's pretty clean water.
And as a juxtaposition, this is the Hillsborough River water.
So, this is a little bit darker, mostly because it's got organic compounds in it, things like decaying leaves and things like that, but I think the point I want to make here is, is this is what the great engineers at the City of Tampa do to clean up the sewage water here in Tampa, and release it back into the environment.
- Phil, why are you opposed?
And why do environmentalists oppose the Pure process?
- Well, I'm glad that Whit brought those samples of the water, because, no, that water coming out of Howard Curren would not be brown, but what you can't see is what you need to be concerned about.
Whit didn't mention that every pharmaceutical that you and I, and everybody else takes, forever chemicals, everything that a dry cleaner, the hospitals, all flush, winds up there, and it doesn't remove all of those elements.
Now, the city would do some type of treatment.
They haven't told us what yet, but we do not have safety standards.
If you do not remove all of those chemicals, and there are no standards at the federal or the state level for any of those chemicals.
I don't wanna be taking your medications.
You don't wanna be taking mine.
I don't wanna be taking everybody else's.
And if we put that into the river where the juvenile fish are coming up in the lower Hillsborough River, or into the drinking water supply, we don't know what the long-term effects would be.
The project that the city has proposed, which council has opposed, is to put it into the aquifer, as you said, to put it into the river below the dam, to replace the sulfur springs and the fresh water that is clean, coming from the river, and to put it into the aquifer, as need be.
The thing is, it's 50 million gallons a day.
That's about 2/3 of the water that we take from the river now.
When it's raining and we don't need it, where are we gonna put it?
What happens to it when it goes into the aquifer?
There are more questions, so many more questions, yet the city is moving ahead at what we think is a pretty reckless pace, to put this project forward.
- Whit, would you agree that the city is moving ahead at a reckless pace?
And I wonder, is it possible that these forever chemicals, or pharmaceuticals, would end up, somehow, in our drinking water supply if Pure goes forward?
- Well, I'd like to address a couple of things.
Background levels of these chemicals already exist in our everyday environment.
And I agree with Phil.
We need to address those pharmaceuticals and those forever chemicals that are currently in the water that we discharge into the environment.
So we need to clean those because they're going into the environment anyway right now.
- And so, we've got to address that.
And certainly, if we're gonna reintroduce that water into a more concentrated river, or possibly into the reservoir, for where it would mix or blend with drinking water, we would 100% have to address those.
And in regards to the drinking water standards, we expect the EPA to issue rules, proposed rules, on those chemicals next week, March 3rd.
You know, this is always kinda the problem with industry and regulation, is usually industry kind of comes out and introduces new chemicals into the environment, and it takes a time for regulators to keep up.
And this is always kind of a constant thing that environmental groups are always challenging regulators with.
- Phil, I want you to respond to that, but I first want to ask you, though, by putting the reclaimed water we currently do into Tampa Bay, - Right.
- are we harming the seagrass?
Are we harming the aquatic life in Tampa Bay?
- It's a great question.
This Howard F. Curren Treatment Plant has been operating for 50 years.
And during that time, the seagrass has come back up.
Now, in the last few years, - It's gone down.
- there has been a problem.
But the Howard F. Curren discharge has been a constant.
It did not cause whatever the decline was.
What probably caused it was the fact that we've had a lot of rainy years, and the area where it was greater was above the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Old Tampa Bay, far from where it's going into the bay.
So to say that this has caused this, is really not relevant to that.
The problem with the contaminants of emerging concern, which we do not have standards, and it'll be great to see those next week, is that the city proposes to use a treatment process that doesn't remove all of it.
Now, in other places, like San Diego, they're using reverse osmosis.
That takes out everything, but reverse osmosis is extremely expensive.
If you want to use that water, we do have reverse osmosis available.
Tampa Bay Water has the desal plant.
That is RO.
And the City of Tampa paid its share, but the Tampa taxpayers did not pay for all of it.
What we would do is duplicate a system, with something that is likely to not be as effective, because what we're going to do here is, do all the treatment that we can afford to do, and we may not be able to afford to do the best type of treatment here in Tampa.
- Whit, a lot of people have raised this question about why not change the state law?
The state is requiring us to do something different with this 50 million gallons of water a day.
Could the City of Tampa just go up to Tallahassee, and say, "Look, we don't think this is fair to us.
We want our own solution, not your solution."
- Yeah, well, we've actually been working with state legislatures on this legislation since it was introduced several years ago.
The city successfully amended the original proposed law to be more flexible for the City of Tampa.
You know, I think this is one that the state got right.
They don't don't always get everything right, but if you look at the vote counts, the law here, which we refer to as SB64, it passed every committee in the House and Senate with unanimous votes.
Find another law in the state of Florida that passes the House and the Senate unanimously through every committee, and is signed by the governor.
The state of Florida is rightfully concerned about water quality, and I think this is one that the state got right.
- I would disagree, in that, first of all, our group of stakeholders, Friends of the Hillsborough River, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, and the Tampa Homeowners Association of Neighborhoods, gave the mayor's office, gave counsel, language that they could use to amend this to give the city more flexibility.
Because again, when you have a wet year, like we've been having, and you have 50 million gallons of water every day, when no one needs any water, what are you gonna do with that water?
So you need more flexibility.
We've suggested that language for the city to lobby to change this rule, but the city said, "You know, it's really tough to get anything done in Tallahassee.
We're not even gonna try."
- The premise of the idea of changing this law is a fundamental disagreement with the discharge.
I think that Phil and some of his organizations would like to argue that this discharge, from Howard F. Curren, somehow is beneficial to the estuary.
There is no evidence, scientific or technical, showing that this discharge is beneficial to the estuary where it is currently being discharged, number one.
Number two, I just wanna put this point forward.
The reason that the state of Florida passed this law is because we fundamentally believe that discharged, reclaimed water, in 20 years, and even today, are an incredibly valuable asset that need to be reused in a way that is safe and economically responsible.
- Phil, this is a little unfair.
15 seconds, wrap it up.
What would you say back?
- I would say, first of all, in their wisdom, Tallahassee has a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem.
50 million gallons a day is about 2/3 of the water that we take from the river, that would flow into the bay.
The bay doesn't stop at downtown.
We have a minimum flow requirement for rivers.
It doesn't stop at downtown, where the bay begins.
So the bay does need fresh water, and this is replacing most of the fresh water that we take from it, that would be flowing down the river.
- Thank you for a civil conversation.
We wanna have you back, because this is an important issue.
I'm sure it's gonna be an issue for the next few years.
But thank you both.
- Thank you, Rob.
- Glad to be here.
(uplifting music) (uplifting music continues) - Now, to discuss more of the week's news, we have two guests.
Amilee Stuckey is an attorney and the Polk County Republican State Committeewoman.
And Maya Brown is a political consultant and a democrat.
And thank you both for being here.
Great to see you.
- Thanks for having us.
- Thanks for having us.
- Well, Governor Ron DeSantis visited Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania this week, where he made campaign-style speeches touting Florida's growing economy, and what he called, its improving crime rate.
- Because you're not gonna have a good economy if the streets aren't safe.
You're not gonna have good education if people don't feel safe.
None of it works unless you have the foundation of public safety.
And as the sheriff mentioned, as you see massive increases in crime, in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Florida has a 50-year low in our crime rate.
- [Rob] Florida ranks 29th in the nation overall when it comes to violent crime.
His trip came just a day before another multiple-shooting incident in Orlando, where three people, including a nine-year-old girl and a television reporter were killed.
- When we got the call, and immediately went to the scene there, a lot of people, of course, a lot of us, still trying to wrap our head around all of this, a very difficult situation, a difficult day for our family at News 13, but we are doing the best that we can to bring you this information.
- A lot of people ask how we're doing.
I'll be honest with you, not good, but we're doing the best we can, as it hits us.
And it's not just emotion, for a colleague, but as a parent, to say a nine-year-old's lost their life, it's not good.
- So, Amilee, that incident happened just a day after the governor made one of his trips up north.
Almost every day, I see Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, holding a news conference, talking about some vicious crime that takes place in Polk County.
And I'm just wondering, is it right for the governor to say that Florida has a low crime rate, when he goes to states like Illinois, and Pennsylvania, and New York?
- Well, I think it's all right for him to do that, considering that the statistics that he discussed are correct.
In 2020, the last report that I could find from 2020, showed that our total crime dropped 8.3%.
So, there was fewer reported index crimes, which is the list of the violent crimes.
Murder was down 14%, and robbery was down 17.5%.
So, we are below the national average, in terms of violent crime.
I think we're at 5.9 per every 100,000 people.
And so, what he's saying is true.
Is there room for improvement?
Of course there is.
There's always room for improvement.
And any time senseless violence occurs, and innocent lives are taken, that's a horrific tragedy that everyone should feel bad about.
And I feel like a lot of us are becoming desensitized to it.
And so, perhaps you could view Sheriff Judd's coming on TV and talking about it, it's to keep people from becoming sensitized to this, these horrific crimes.
I don't know that it means that we have more than anyone else.
It just means that he takes a very strong stance, and we're not gonna tolerate it there.
- Maya, what would you say about the crime rate in Florida?
I mean, is the governor right to go brag about how good the crime rate is here in Florida, when he goes to places like Illinois?
- Yeah, I'm struggling with that, Rob, especially as we're kinda thinking about some of the policies as we enter legislative session coming up, particularly when it relates to permitless carry.
And thinking about all these crimes that are happening with guns, folks are brandishing weapons, is that going to increase our crime rate?
You know, in the back, we were talking about, how do we legislate social behavior?
How do we legislate kindness?
And having permitless carry, I think, is gonna increase our crime rate, is going to impact our economy later on down the road.
And also, we have to fix some of the, how government responds to that.
We have issues where 911 dispatch systems are down, and local governments, and we need to make sure that the state and other local governments are funding that, to be able to respond to crisis and emergencies.
And so, I think it's somewhat irresponsible, but we have to think about how some of, especially when he's talking about some of these policy proposals.
- Okay, well, on Thursday, students with the Florida College Democrats and Dream Defenders held demonstrations at college campuses across the state, in response to Governor DeSantis's policies on education.
The Stand for Freedom movement and walkout was held to protest the administration's policies against the LGBTQ community and its efforts to ban parts of Black history, and the governor's plan to do away with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, at colleges and universities across the state.
The governor says he's waging a campaign against wokeism and Marxism.
So, Maya, let's talk about that.
What did you think of the student protest this week?
And is the governor right?
Is there wokeism and Marxism that's hurting the education of students across the state?
- Well, the first thing I kinda think about is wokeism is not, we can't erase wokeism because that means we're erasing Black history, right?
When I think about my family and other Black families across this country, saying that we wanna erase wokeism that's now become synonymous with Black history, it's divisiveness.
And that's not how this country was built.
It was built off of the labor of Black folks.
And we have to stop talking about wokeism as, in terms of infiltrating our schools.
You know, we've seen this time and time again, from legislative session, in terms of CRT, we're seeing it now with APFM history.
And so, I am proud of the students who are utilizing their freedom of speech to push back, especially when they have a particular history lesson and focus that they want to gain out of their education.
And we should afford them that, especially if we're not forgiven student loan debt just yet.
How are we making sure that they're getting what they need and what they want to have, in terms of a full range of perspectives about the world.
- Mm-hm, Amilee, is the governor attacking academic freedom, or is he just, is he trying to root out Marxism and ideology?
And when will we know when all the Marxism and wokeism has been weeded out, if that's his aim?
- Well, (sighs) we know that it's happening, because we hear it from our children when they come home.
I think a lot of this stuff started to come out due to COVID and parents looking over the shoulder of their children as they did school.
And so, a lot of it is from the parents.
And he's, when the governor does these things, it's because he's speaking as a parent as well.
And, you know, I'm a parent, and I saw some things in my son's school work that I didn't agree with.
So, I don't think that wokeism can be described as only relating to African American or Black history.
It doesn't, it's to root out a bunch of things that are deemed harmful by parents, that they think should be taught in the home and not in the school.
And one thing, and not to be too facetious, but the article that you gave me from "The Independent" to look at, just in one of the paragraphs, I see, right around eight or nine mistakes in the writing.
And so, I think that draws attention to what we really want.
We just want the focus to be on actual academics, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and not a glossed-over history that shows one side as being right, but a real history.
We were talking in the back room about an African American woman in the '20s who rode her motorcycle across the United States.
This is before women were even wearing pants.
So, to not know about that until I was an adult kinda ticks me off, and it should tick everybody off.
There's things out there that we don't know, that we should know.
- Mm-hm, this is a conversation that we ought to just spend an hour on.
- But let me move on to this next one.
- Using Fox News as his platform, the governor unveiled a list this week of 14 incumbent school board members from around the state that he will target for defeat in 2024.
They include Nadia Combs and Jessica Vaughn in Hillsborough County, Laura Hine and Eileen Long in Pinellas County, and also, Tom Edwards in Sarasota County.
The primary criteria, according to Fox News, is to oppose incumbents who do not protect parental rights, and who have failed to protect students from woke ideologies.
And Amilee, let me ask you about that.
Is the governor right to get involved in these local campaigns?
- Well, once again, I think what he does is he talks to people within those counties, and they're the ones who expressed issues with those local members.
And I think he thought that if he could use any sort of his, maybe political capital, to affect change, then he was gonna do all he could to help.
And what that means is, is he just, essentially, people submitted reports to him, and then he would determine whether or not they were someone that should be endorsed.
So it's not really that he's gonna go in there and try to change these things himself.
They're just pointing out people that, perhaps, you know, once again, back to parental rights, that maybe the local parents are saying, "This person does not have my rights in mind.
And I'm the parent, and I should have the right to say so over this subject or whatever."
- And Maya, what would you say?
The governor was successful in the last election cycle to get a lot of school board members removed from across the state.
- Yeah, and I- - Is he doing the right thing?
- Right, and I think I have to disagree with Amilee on this because we've seen the governor kinda overstep, especially with his removal of school board members, based on kind of partisan politics.
And I believe that, you know, we have elections and a democracy for a reason.
Let voters decide who they want to represent them on our local school boards.
And I kind of find it interesting, how we continue to talk about parental rights, and wanting to protect that, when we're basically providing a space for a certain group of folks to run, and who share the same ideology, right?
And so, again, I think our school board members who are being targeted by the governor are doing their best, not only to protect parents' rights, but also the rights of the student, and how they're gonna make sure that we have a great workforce, and preparing them for life beyond 12th grade.
- Okay, well, this week in Tallahassee, Florida lawmakers passed a sweeping housing bill through the Senate Appropriations Committee that would, among other things, prevent local governments from implementing rent control.
The bill is SB 102.
It would prohibit local governments in Florida, such as cities and counties, from enacting ordinances, measures, or rules, that would impose caps on rent increases.
Across the state, affordable housing advocates have been calling on city and county governments to do something about the rapidly increasing cost of housing.
Some advocates do want rent control.
We only have 10 seconds for each one, but Maya, you first.
Is it a good idea for Tallahassee to do this?
- Well, listen, Tallahassee continues to talk about wanting limited government, and they continue to do preemption.
I think we have to do something to address the housing crisis, and make it more affordable.
- All right, and Amilee, 10 seconds.
- I do agree that the housing situation right now is some people can't even find affordable housing.
But the good thing about what they're trying to do in Tallahassee is that they haven't just identified a problem and trying to put the kibosh on it.
What they've done is they've added a solution, and the legislation is also going to earmark $711 million for affordable housing programs, and offering additional incentives for private developers to build affordable housing.
That's what we need.
- All right, thank you very much - Thank you.
- for a good conversation.
- Thanks, Rob.
- Appreciate you.
Thanks for having us.
- And thank you for joining us.
Send us your comments at FTW@wedu.org.
You can view this and past shows online at wedu.org or on the PBS app.
And "Florida This Week" is now available as a podcast.
And from all of us here at WEDU, have a great weekend.
(uplifting music) (uplifting music continues) (uplifting music continues) - [Presenter] "Florida This Week" is a production of WEDU, who is solely responsible for its content.
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