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Oldsmar renews bid for water source

So far, the city's chances of clinching a grant to help pay for further studies and tests appear good.

By ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


OLDSMAR -- The city has revived its search for its own underground water supply, and that could mean the end of Oldsmar's reliance on other municipalities for drinking water.

But not any time soon.

About three years ago, city officials began looking into building a $14.9-million treatment plant that could pump, filter and distribute drinking water to residents. But to build such a plant, Oldsmar needed financial help.

City officials applied for a Southwest Florida Water Management District grant to pay half the cost of continuing the project. But the request was ranked too low to receive funding, leaving the city in limbo for a year.

City officials have re-applied for a Swiftmud grant, and the second time may be the charm.

"It is on the funding schedule for fiscal year 2001," Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said. "There seems to be sufficient funds to pay for it this year."

The district's Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board still has to give its final approval, a decision scheduled to be made next month. Currently, Oldsmar's grant application is ranked high enough to receive funding.

If awarded, the grant will fund half of the $615,000 it will cost for more extensive studies and tests. The city would have to cover the rest of the cost.

A preliminary study completed in 1997 determined that there was enough water underground to supply the city. It also concluded that, in some cases, the city could produce its own water cheaper than it could buy from Pinellas County or St. Petersburg.

"Basically the feasibility study indicated that it looks promising and we should do more detailed planning and engineering," City Manager Bruce Haddock said.

The next phase of study will include drilling additional test wells and taking a more detailed look at the rates the city could charge residents, Molligan said. The next phase also will help determine the location of wells and consider where and how the city would discharge the salty concentrate left over after the water is treated. As proposed, the plant would pump brackish water from between layers of limestone under the city.

Brackish water has a salt level 10 percent of that found in seawater. Plans call for the plan to use reverse osmosis and mesh membranes to render it drinkable.

"The idea would be to treat about 4-million gallons a day of brackish water to get about 2-million gallons a day of drinking water," Molligan said.

The city now buys water for about $1.79 to $2.70 per 1,000 gallons from St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. The city is planning to spend $1,084,000 to purchase water next year and the cost continues to increase, Haddock said.

A spokeswoman for Tampa Bay Water said Tuesday that the regional agency did not have a position on Oldsmar's venture into the water business. But at least one of Tampa Bay Water's member governments has opposed Oldsmar's efforts in the past.

Last year, the St. Petersburg City Council sent a letter to Swiftmud opposing Oldsmar's project because "St. Petersburg will be financially penalized if its water customers are encouraged by (Swiftmud) to go independent with new water sources."

According to the preliminary study, if Swiftmud funds half of the project, Oldsmar could produce water at a cost of $1.32 to $1.68 per 1,000 gallons.

The next phase of studies will take about two years. If the city chooses to build a treatment plan, construction would take about four years. Dunedin has a similar treatment plant and there are more than a dozen other similar facilities in west central Florida, Molligan said. If Oldsmar builds a treatment plant, then that would help relieve some of the demand from the already-strained system that supplies the Tampa Bay area.

"They key on this one is it would relieve some of the stress and every little bit helps," Molligan said.

Because the basin board is not allowed to commit funds beyond a year, Oldsmar will have to re-apply for funding every year. The city most likely will use a bond or a state loan to fund its share of the project, Haddock said.

Before the project gets the green light, it still has to overcome numerous obstacles and there will be several opportunities for residents to comment at public meetings about the project, Haddock said.

"We are still quite a ways from making a decision whether or not we should proceed with actually building something," Haddock said.

-- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.

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