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Desal plant's maligned brine may find use

The Florida Aquarium has lost its supplier of saltwater. The Tampa Bay Water plant's byproduct could replace it.

Published June 24, 2003

CLEARWATER - Every day, the new desalination plant on the shores of Tampa Bay spits out 19-million gallons of brine, the byproduct of turning seawater into 25-million gallons of drinking water.

The brine is diluted and poured back into the bay. But on Monday, the board of Tampa Bay Water learned that there might be a better place to put it: the Florida Aquarium.

The aquarium needs salty water, about 1.6-million gallons a year, for its sharks and rays and other marine species.

Since the aquarium opened in Tampa's Channelside District in 1995, the salty water has been supplied for free by quarterly visits from barges owned by a Tampa Electric Co. subsidiary.

But now the barges are getting too busy with paying customers to continue with the aquarium visits, said TECO spokesman Ross Bannister. So TECO told the aquarium it needs another water boy.

The aquarium's chief engineer, Greg Osborne, told the board of Tampa Bay Water on Monday that he hopes the $110-million plant in Apollo Beach could be their salty savior.

"We're hoping we can make this work in the worst way," Osborne said afterward.

Osborne was accompanied by Craig Watson, director of the University of Florida's tropical aquaculture laboratory in Ruskin, who is running tests on the brine to make sure it contains nothing harmful. So far, he said, the brine checks out fine.

The aquarium might not be the only briny beneficiary of the desalination plant, Watson said. Fish farmers are becoming keenly interested in the commercial possibilities of saltwater species, and that would require a source of salt too, he said.

Tampa Bay Water officials are eager to accommodate the aquarium, probably at no charge, although the logistics of transporting the brine from Apollo Beach to Channelside could be tricky.

The plant, which finally opened in March, faced a barrage of skepticism during its planning and permitting because critics feared the brine discharges would harm Tampa Bay. A 2000 public hearing drew 700 people, many of them carrying signs: "No Brine in the Bay," "Too Much Salt Kills," and "If I Wanted the Dead Sea, I'd Live in Israel."

The irony of the aquarium's request was not lost on Tampa Bay Water general manager Jerry Maxwell, who quipped, "We found out today that brine can be a good thing."

[Last modified June 24, 2003, 01:47:56]

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