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Utility will pull more water out of aquifer

Published August 22, 2006

CLEARWATER - Much of the Tampa Bay area has gotten up to 6 inches less rain this summer than last. With dried-up rivers, Tampa Bay Water has been unable to refill its reservoir.

So on Monday the utility's leaders voted to get ready for the coming dry season, in part, by boosting the amount of water it pumps out of the underground aquifer from 111-million gallons a day to 115-million gallons by the end of September.

However, one board member, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms, questioned why the utility's plan relies so heavily on groundwater. She said Hillsborough environmental specialists who have inspected the area's swamps and marshes have found them still parched from pumping.

That prompted board Chairman Ted Schrader, a Pasco County commissioner, to point out that Storms and her fellow commissioners allow Hillsborough residents to sprinkle their lawns twice a week instead of once. Storms said that's because Hillsborough gotten enough rain to keep its aquifer well supplied.

Yet, demand for water continues to grow, particularly in Hillsborough and Pasco counties and in Tampa. So far this month, Tampa Bay Water figures show, the northwest Hillsborough area has used about 6 percent more water than projected and the south-central Hillsborough area about 14 percent more.

But with the Tampa Bay area getting less rainfall than expected, the rivers from which Tampa Bay Water draws water for its 15-billion-gallon reservoir aren't flowing sufficiently for the utility to use reliably.

"If you don't have water coming down the river, you can't do much with it," said Alison Adams, the utility's source rotation and environmental protection manager. She joked that what the area really needs is "one good tropical storm."

Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 because local governments were suing each other over the consequences of pumping too much water from the ground. Part of Tampa Bay Water's mission is to curb groundwater pumping and try alternatives such as building the nation's largest desalination plant.

Storms asked why the utility can't get more water from the plant instead of the ground. But the Apollo Beach plant, which was supposed to supply 25-million gallons of water a day, has been shut down since June 2005 for repairs. The repairs, which were supposed to be complete by October, are now expected to be finished just before Christmas.

"We're hoping we can count on it in the spring," Schrader said.

That leaves increased groundwater pumping as the only alternative, pointed out St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who noted that groundwater is also cheaper.

The board passed the proposed plan, 6-2, with Storms and her fellow Hillsborough commissioner, Mark Sharpe, voting no.

[Last modified August 22, 2006, 00:38:58]

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