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Water customers may be dropped

Acouncil member wants to withdraw services to 200,000 customers outside the city because it can't pump enough river water for all users.

By JANET ZINK
Published June 23, 2006


TAMPA - Faced with a water supply crunch that could mean higher prices, city officials say they want to cut loose some customers to limit demand.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to look into the possibility of gradually eliminating 200,000 water customers who live outside city limits.

Council members say they would rather keep cheap drinking water from the Hillsborough River flowing exclusively to the taps of Tampa's 330,000 residents.

"Our noncity area has grown tremendously, and that's created part of this problem," said council member John Dingfelder, who proposed the idea.

The city gets most of its drinking water from the river. But the city now pulls 82-million gallons a day from the river, the maximum allowed according to its state permit.

During exceptionally dry months when demand is high, the city buys water from Tampa Bay Water, the utility that provides water to the region. This year, the city has spent $3-million on water purchases since March.

Other member governments of Tampa Bay Water, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey, get the vast majority of their water from the utility.

Tampa's population boom means soon the city will have to start buying water every month from Tampa Bay Water.

Tampa is a unique member of Tampa Bay Water," said Brad Baird, director of the city's water department. "It's our turn to start purchasing water."

The agency charges $2.11 per 1,000 gallons of water. Water from the river costs only 56 cents per 1,000 gallons. That extra cost eventually will be passed on to customers.

"Our city residents don't deserve this increase," Dingfelder said. "By God-given right, that river happens to flow through us."

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said perhaps Tampa water customers have enjoyed low water prices for too long. A rate hike might encourage conservation, she said.

"There's nothing like increased prices to make us adequately and appropriately appreciate the water we have," she said.

An interlocal agreement dating back to 1979 requires the city to provide water to some parts of the unincorporated county. With population growth as it has been, the city now provides water to about half of Hillsborough County's 1.1 million residents.

Water customers who live outside city limits pay a surcharge for the service.

The city staff will take six months to review the logistics and economic impact of turning the noncity water customers over the county.

And the county would have to agree to serve them.

"This can't be an emotional decision," said Paul Vanderploog, director of water resource services for Hillsborough County. "It has to be economically feasible for the city, and it would surely have to be economically feasible for us if we were to express some interest. There's lots of negotiation and lots of issues there."

Tampa Water Department demand increased from about 65-million gallons per day in 1995 to 82-million gallons per day in 2005. Estimates are that demand will increase to nearly 90-million gallons a day in 2010 and nearly 100-million gallons day in 2020.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.

[Last modified June 23, 2006, 00:37:52]


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