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Everyone asks: What about water?

Candidates at a forum find that the water question is top on most people's lists.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- With temperatures climbing and lawns drying, the one thing the audience wanted to know was what the candidates planned to do about the lack of water in Pasco.

"If we don't have enough water now, how are we going to have enough water 10 years from now with the projected 50,000 homes coming in?" Paul McClintock asked County Commission candidates Wednesday during a forum sponsored by the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Nearly every question posed to County Commission candidates dealt with water in some way, from whether the county should take over the private Aloha Utilities to whether it should support a desalination plant on its own shores. The two candidates for sheriff who attended the forum, Democratic Sheriff Lee Cannon and Republican Gil Thivener, sat quietly throughout most of the two-hour forum.

For her part, District 1 County Commission candidate Pat Burke, a Democrat, said she wants to limit new growth unless she knows there is enough water to serve the development.

"Growth needs to be tied directly to water that is available."

County Commissioner David H. "Hap" Clark, a Democrat who is running for re-election in District 5, said he thinks a second desalination plant is the answer, as long as it is not in Pasco. The region's water board has selected a site in Hillsborough for the first desalination plant.

Clark also said the water shortage is not a new problem. When he was younger, his family used a cistern to collect rainwater to drink. And when it ran out, it ran out, he told the audience.

"We had to go to the colored town to haul water," Clark said, referring to portions of the county populated by African Americans who had wells.

Peter Altman, the former New Port Richey mayor and Democrat who is seeking Clark's seat, said the county needed to look not just at water quantity but at quality. One thing the county needs to focus on is getting residents off septic tanks and hooked up to the sewer system, Altman said.

"The No. 1 concern needs to be the safety of the water supply."

Fred Miller, an independent candidate who also is trying to unseat Clark, disagrees that desal will solve the county's water woes. Miller is concerned about the environmental effects of depositing concentrated salt water into the gulf.

"Desal is not the answer. Better management of the water now is the answer," Miller said.

William Faulkner, a Republican running for County Commission District 5, would like to see a cluster of several smaller desal plants in the region to prevent a water shortage should the one or two large desal plants be damaged in some way.

When audience members complained about golf courses that seemed to be watering too much, County Commission District 3 candidate Scott Factor, a Republican, said the rules should be applied equally to residents and businesses.

"If you can't water, they can't water. Yes, the golf courses will go brown, but when you turn on your tap, you're going to get water, and that's more important."

Three other candidates attended the forum: County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, a Republican who has not yet filed to run again in District 3; Republican Ed Poulin, who is running for County Commission District 5; and Port Richey Mayor Eileen Ferdinand, a Democrat who also is running for County Commission District 5.

Staff writer Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulferts@sptimes.com.

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