Water fight goes to talks

Published June 19, 2007

CLEARWATER -- Tampa Bay Water put off a legal battle Monday against a plan it fears would jeopardize its ability to supply drinking water to the region.

The plan, developed by the city of Tampa and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, calls in part for adding fresh water from the Tampa Bypass Canal to the Hillsborough River in an effort to preserve fish and wildlife.

Tampa Bay Water's board was to decide whether to challenge the plan in front of an administrative law judge but opted to have its staff meet with Tampa and Swiftmud officials to see if they could devise alternatives all parties can support.

They will address that matter at the agency's August meeting.

Tampa Bay Water opposes the current plan because it allows the city to withdraw about 7-million gallons a day from the bypass canal to augment the river.

"That's water that we have already planned to use," said Alison Adams, Tampa Bay Water's senior manager. "The way they developed it, it impacts the regional system, and that's why it's important that we are at the table."

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said that there has been "a lack of compromising attitude on Tampa Bay Water's" side regarding the plan, which was devised after an advocacy group sued the city over the health of the river.

"That's not the attitude I'm bringing to the table," Iorio said. "We've been able to work things out. There is no reason for ill will on this issue. It should be an issue of policy."

But Susan Latvala, chairwoman of Tampa Bay Water's board and a Pinellas County commissioner, said neither Tampa nor Swiftmud has asked for Tampa Bay Water's input in the year the two organizations have been working on the plan.

"Tampa Bay Water wasn't invited," she said. "We haven't been a party, and that's what this is all about."

Tampa Bay Water is the area's regional water utility, providing water to Tampa, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey and Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Iorio went on to say, "Fundamentally, it's about the health of the river."

In a related issue, Tampa Bay Water agreed to ask an administrative law judge to resolve a dispute regarding a permit it wants from Swiftmud to take drinking water from the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal.

Tampa Bay Water wants the permit, which would allow it to take water during times of high river flow, for 20 years. Swiftmud has said it will grant the permit for only three years