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Water board proposes more pumping

Part of Tampa Bay Water's plan includes using water from under Pasco to resaturate well fields dried by overpumping.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 17, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Tampa Bay Water has released a grand plan to resaturate Pasco County wetlands dried by years of groundwater overpumping.

But the plan includes more of what Pasco officials like least: pumping millions of gallons of water from under Pasco to benefit well fields owned by Pinellas County.

The regional water agency's "Phase I Mitigation Plan," suggests pumping as much as 13.2-million gallons a day to help rehydrate 1,090 acres at the Pinellas-owned Cross Bar Ranch well field near Land O'Lakes.

That would mean a 50 percent increase in the well field's average daily production of 22.5-million gallons a day.

The water agency's plan also takes in four other regional well fields in Pasco, but no other part of the proposal involves tapping as much groundwater as at Cross Bar.

For example, much of the water to rehydrate the Starkey well field in New Port Richey would come from skimming the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers.

The plan has rekindled some feelings of last year, when Pinellas won the right to pump an additional 2-million gallons a day to help restore swamps and lakes at Cross Bar.

Pasco slammed the idea as wasteful, but failed to stymie Pinellas in court.

Steve Simon, chairman of the Pasco County Commission, called the proposal a "wish list" that's politically and hydrologically impossible to fulfill.

Most of the water sucked to the surface at Cross Bar would evaporate, Simon said. Less than 10 percent of surface water typically soaks hundreds of feet back into the aquifer.

The best way to help the environment is to stop overpumping so the land can recover on its own, Simon said.

"Mitigation is feel-good," he said. "They're treating the symptoms rather than the cause. The cause is pumping. Treat the cause."

Tampa Bay Water is mandated to reduce pumping at 11 Pasco and Hillsborough County well fields from 158-million gallons per day to 121-million gallons in 2003 and to 90-million gallons in 2008.

Those reductions should make a massive infusion of groundwater into Cross Bar unnecessary, said Pinellas utilities director Pick Tally.

Pinellas swears by the success of its existing mitigation wells on the 12,000-acre Cross Bar and Al-Bar ranches.

Tally said most of the groundwater Pinellas uses to create water fowl habitat on the well field doesn't evaporate but recycles back into the aquifer.

Still, Tally said mitigation estimates for Cross Bar are outlandishly high.

"It won't happen. Good lord, I just can't imagine that could happen," Tally said of the 13-million-gallon-a-day proposal. "Cut the well field out before you do that."

According to Tampa Bay Water, the mitigation plan, parts of which could start this year, is subject to change.

Water shortages, permitting problems and landowner resistance could curb the agency's ambitions.

The agency will re-evaluate the need for wetland restoration in 2005, after the first mandatory reductions in groundwater pumping have had their effect.

Considering intercounty squabbles and the prolonged drought, Simon rated the plan's chances thusly: "There's no way on God's green Earth."

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