MAXWELL:  With water wars over, it’s time to look to the future – Jerry Maxwell Guest Column

10/13/1998 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Some interests falsely imply that Pasco County’s water resources are not being protected and alternative supply sources, like desalination, have been delayed. In reality, well field pumping has already been reduced and seawater desalination, if selected, will still produce water as scheduled _ before Dec. 31, 2002.

Let’s take a closer look at the facts.

With the restructuring of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority as Tampa Bay Water, the amount of water available for use at the agency’s 11 regional well fields was immediately reduced from 192-million to 158-million gallons per day. This reduction in permitted supply means groundwater pumping cannot be increased. That is a significant victory for the region. And pumping will be reduced another 37-million gallons per day by the end of 2002. By the end of 2007, water production from these 11 facilities will be only 90-million gallons a day.

While looking to our future is positive, it is important to recognize existing gains. Pumping from the Cross Bar well field has been reduced over the past two years, an act that was negotiated by Pasco County early in the restructuring discussions. In 1995, more than 24-million gallons on average were pumped each day from Cross Bar compared with an average of 21-million gallons per day in 1998, which gives these resources some relief until 2002.

The key to reducing the region’s reliance on groundwater is developing diverse supplies. At least 85-million gallons and perhaps as much as 90-million gallons of new water per day must be brought online to meet the environment’s and the public’s water needs. Seawater desalination is one promising alternative. A recent letter to the Pasco Times wrongly suggested that the option of 50-million gallons per day of desalinated seawater has been eliminated from consideration.

The fact is that 50-million gallons per day of desalinated water is still an option, but not from one facility. It would be more risk-prudent and environmentally sensible to build two facilities to achieve 50-million gallons per day than to invest all our resources in one large facility on a single site.

In November, the Tampa Bay Water board of directors will decide which projects are necessary to meet our 2002 and 2007 deadlines. Tampa Bay Water is currently negotiating with four developer teams to clarify their proposals with respect to water quality, water quantity, delivery points, cost and liability to protect the public’s investment if seawater desalination is selected.

Tampa Bay Water is also analyzing rate impacts of different system configurations using all available options to determine how new supply sources will impact water rates. This information is critical to making an informed and sound decision that will affect each member government’s water customers.

Several configurations, including seawater desalination, enhanced surface water and indirect potable reuse, can be built on time. The small investment of two or three months of continued negotiations on seawater desalination compressed the schedule, but it will save millions of dollars for Tampa Bay area taxpayers and water customers, and the project schedule can meet all necessary milestones.

The water wars of the past are over, and the Tampa Bay region is a clear winner. Groundwater pumping has been reduced and will continue to be reduced. Alternative sources such as seawater desalination, enhanced surface water and indirect potable reuse are being seriously considered to help meet the region’s needs. New water supplies are being funded by all members of Tampa Bay Water, and each county now has equal voting rights.

Much work remains to bring new sources online. It is now time to look toward the future to sound solutions, so the entire Tampa Bay region can again cross the finish line a winner.

_ Jerry L. Maxwell is general manager of Tampa Bay Water.