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Brooker Creek key to flood plan

Swiftmud looks to preserve to handle storm runoff.

By THERESA BLACKWELL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008


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EAST LAKE - To ease chronic flooding in the Tarpon Woods subdivision last year, Pinellas County officials came up with two ideas:

Buy the Tarpon Woods golf course, which didn't happen.

And buy Property Appraiser Jim Smith's lot, which did.

Now the Southwest Florida Water Management District is studying a third possibility: Send stormwater into the neighboring Brooker Creek Preserve before it even reaches Tarpon Woods.

That would require a retention area of at least 2,000 acres - about a quarter of the 8,300-acre preserve - a county consultant told Pinellas County commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioners didn't react when the idea came up during a discussion of flooding in Tarpon Woods, but a leader of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve did.

"A 2,000-acre retention pond in the preserve would just be utterly and completely absurd," said Allyn Childress, the group's chairman. "We are going to be very vigilant on this."

Tarpon Woods, where water in the roads can stand a foot deep during the rainy season, needs help, but the preserve is not the place to look for it, Childress said.

During a County Commission work session Tuesday, a consultant with Tampa Bay Engineering reviewed seven alternative projects, plus an interim project, for solving Tarpon Woods' flood problems.

One alternative would involve widening Brooker Creek itself. Five others would add a ditch, channel or culvert to help drain the 478-acre subdivision, which has about 400 homes.

A seventh alternative, which the county has already rejected, would be to buy the golf course for use as a retention pond. That's not feasible, said Peter Nikolov, Tampa Bay Engineering transportation division vice president.

Asked where else water might be stored, he said, "There isn't much available other than your Brooker Creek Preserve."

The water district, often called Swiftmud, is studying the entire Brooker Creek watershed, which covers parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, and is looking at the possibility of rehydrating Brooker Creek Preserve's wetlands, Nikolov said.

To store runoff from the 30-square-mile area that's upstream from Tarpon Woods would normally require about 10 to 20 percent of the acreage, he said. That's at least 2,000 acres.

Nikolov recommended that county officials wait for the results of the Swiftmud study before moving forward with any major drainage improvement project for Tarpon Woods.

The $1.4-million study is still in its early stages.

"Right now, we're still studying the watershed, and we're still coming up with potential restoration projects," Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Hanke said.

She did confirm that a project to divert water from the watershed into the preserve to improve wetland conditions is one of the projects under consideration.

If the solution to flooding in Tarpon Woods cannot be found in Tarpon Woods, then officials will need to look at alternatives, said Will Davis, the county's director of environmental management. And those could "include reservoirs or impoundment areas north of Tarpon Woods or shunting water around Tarpon Woods."

But he said figures he's heard put the acreage needed to store water above ground at more like 4,000 acres.

"Building a 2,000- or 4,000-acre reservoir in Brooker Creek Preserve was never contemplated as a solution to rehydrating wetlands," he said, "because of the destruction of the uplands."

But parts of the preserve have been starved for water because of development, and officials say some water diversion could possibly be beneficial - at the right time and in the right quantities.

"Water levels in Florida wetlands naturally fluctuate," said Lisa Baltus, the county's land manager at the preserve. "So it's not like we want to just hold standing water."

Any such project would have to consider many factors, she said, including the effect on plants, animals and what's downstream, including Lake Tarpon. But the prospect of a giant Brooker Creek reservoir does not alarm her.

"Not at this point," she said, "with everything still being looked at."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or 727 445-4170.

[Last modified January 16, 2008, 12:06:10]


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