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    Tough water choices lie ahead

    Water utility representatives find themselves in a difficult negotiating position in trying to kill a new well field.

    By JAMES THORNER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001


    Come July, Tampa Bay Water, the utility serving Pasco County, is scheduled to approve the next phase of projects designed to relieve regional water shortages.

    On the master water plan are a second desalination plant, possibly near Anclote Key off the southwest coast of Pasco, and a proposal to convert brackish water into drinking water in Pinellas County.

    But there's one project on the list that Pasco officials would like to stop: Cypress Bridge II.

    Compared with the desalination plant, which could make between 10-million gallons and 20-million gallons of water a day, Cypress Bridge II would disgorge about 4-million gallons a day.

    But what Cypress Bridge II lacks in productivity it makes up for in controversy. It would occupy a central Pasco area already stressed by groundwater pumping, where cypress trees die of thirst and home foundations crack.

    Pasco officials admit axing Cypress Bridge II will be a challenge. The new well field, which would straddle the Pasco-Hillsborough line southeast of State Road 54 and Interstate 75, would produce water at about half the cost of a desalination plant.

    Tampa Bay Water customers in St. Petersburg and Pinellas, grown accustomed to cheaper groundwater, might not want to cancel the project.

    Abandoning Cypress Bridge II would increase the likelihood that Tampa Bay Water would approve a 10-million-gallon-a-day well field in northeast Hillsborough named for the Cone Ranch.

    Might Hillsborough representatives object? Pasco officials think so.

    "The only way you'll get Cypress Bridge off the table . . . Cone Ranch has to go bye-bye, too," said Ann Hildebrand, a Pasco commissioner who chairs the board of Tampa Bay Water.

    The utility is bound by a 1998 agreement to reduce groundwater pumping at 11 well fields in Pasco and northwest Hillsborough.

    This year, Tampa Bay Water plans to start building several projects to meet its initial goal of cutting groundwater use by the end of 2002 from 158-million gallons a day to 121-million gallons a day.

    The projects include a $100-million desalination plant at Big Bend near Apollo Beach, and a large reservoir southeast of Tampa fed by the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers.

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