tampabay.com

What's in our water? Foreign ownership

By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published May 7, 2007


Increasingly, our region's major water supplies are in the hands of some of the world's biggest private water corporations.

Just thought you'd like to know who some of your "drinking" partners are. Especially now that we're starting to hear the words "drought" and "climate change" and "rising Florida population" a lot more these days, the region's dependence on these global corporations is sure to increase in the years ahead.

Who are they? Companies like France's Veolia Environnement, with 300, 000 employees in 67 countries. And Germany's giant RWE Group, and Spain's Acciona Agua, with 30, 000 employees and 320 water treatment plants worldwide.

Combined, these corporations are supposed to generate more drinkable water for us from surface waters such as rivers and reservoirs, or from salt water using desalination - all in an effort to reduce the need to pump water out of the ground.

One week ago Tampa Bay Water, this area's regional water authority, signed off on a $158.4-million contract amendment with a company called Veolia Water North America - South LLC to nearly double the daily capacity to 120-million gallons of water of Tampa Bay Water's "regional surface water treatment plant" in Brandon. This company is part of the French giant Veolia.

The Brandon plant takes and blends its sources of water from the Alafia River, the Tampa Bypass Canal, the Hillsborough River and the C.W Bill Young Regional Reservoir. That raw water gets sent through a 6-foot diameter pipeline to the treatment plant where it undergoes fancy processes like "ballasted flocculation, " "ozonation" and "chemical dosing" before ending up stored in "finished-water" tanks.

The Brandon plant expansion is supposed to be completed by Veolia no later than Dec. 29, 2010.

Tampa's long-suffering desalination plant, the country's largest effort to extract drinkable water from salt water, after years of technical woes appears to be getting close to producing an output sufficient to make area leaders happy. While most of the original companies that designed, built and tried to operate the desal plant are long gone, fired or bankrupt, the recent players are subsidiaries of Germany's RWE or affiliated with Spain's Acciona Agua.

The German-Spanish partnership called American Water-Pridesa is in charge of making the desal plant run smoothly. American Water is owned by RWE, while Pridesa's parent is Acciona Agua.

Their roles here are just a small example of the increasing competition by global corporations to profit from the business of water.

It's going to become a very big industry. Especially as water grows more scarce - and expensive.

Nor are these the only water-driven corporations with a vested interest here. Can anyone recall who owns the Zephyrhills brand of bottled Florida spring water? It's the same giant corporation that owns these bottled water brands: Perrier, S. Pellegrino, Poland Spring, Ozarka, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Arrowhead and Pure Life.

They all belong to Nestle, based in Switzerland.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or 727 893-8405.