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2nd reservoir won't be cheap

Rising construction prices and wetlands concerns could more than double the cost for Tampa Bay Water.

Published June 20, 2006

CLEARWATER - If Tampa Bay Water wants to build a second reservoir next door to its first one in Hillsborough County, it will probably cost about $213-million, twice as much as the first one did, a consultant told the utility board Monday.

Building on any other site will push the cost even higher, topping $300-million, engineer Philip Waller Jr. of MWH Americas told Tampa Bay Water's board.

Nevertheless, the board voted to approve a more detailed study of what will be required to build a second reservoir, along with several other initiatives to provide enough water to fill it.

The wholesale utility, which sells water to counties and cities serving 2-million people throughout the Tampa Bay area, expects demand to rise by more than 3-million gallons a year over the next 20 years.

So the board is searching for alternatives for providing that much water without resorting to more pumping from the underground aquifer, a practice which has been blamed for draining lakes and swamps and drying up private wells.

One alternative calls for drawing freshwater from the Hillsborough River and replacing it with reclaimed water from the Tampa sewer plant. A proposal to lower the water quality standards in the river so Tampa Bay Water could get a permit to pursue that alternative ran into serious environmental objections.

As a result, "this board is continuing to experience some queasiness'' about that alternative, said utility board member Ronda Storms, a Hillsborough County commissioner.

On the other hand, the board has been happy with its 8-month-old reservoir, built on 1,100 acres of cattle pasture in the rural Lithia area. At 15-billion gallons, it's the largest reservoir in the state, big enough to fill Raymond James Stadium 33 times.

In April, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, a utility board member, persuaded the rest of the board to investigate building a second reservoir, perhaps next door to the first one on the other 4,000 acres the utility owns in Lithia.

But Waller told the board that construction costs have skyrocketed since the first one was built. And the cost of replacing wetlands that would be destroyed on the site would be greater because there is nowhere left on the site to build man-made wetlands, he said.

Meanwhile, the utility dealt with another piece of potentially bad news on its troubled desalination plant. Pumps that wore out more than 20 years too soon are slowly being repaired for free by the manufacturer - too slowly, in fact, to meet the timetable for reopening the plant this fall.

So the engineer overseeing the project recommended the board offer the French company $150,000 if the pumps are delivered by Aug. 1.

Two board members, Storms and Port Richey Mayor Dan Tipton, objected to the bonus, arguing that the utility was in effect rewarding the manufacturer for dragging its feet in fixing defective equipment. But a majority of the board said finishing the $160-million plant without more expensive delays was more important.

Storms compared the discussion to a husband and wife arguing over whether to complain about a defective washing machine. The husband might say the fight isn't worth pursuing, she said, while the wife would say yes it is.

"From my perspective," she said, "what Tampa Bay Water needs is a wife."

[Last modified June 19, 2006, 22:09:13]

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