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    2 Pinellas sites are options for desal plant


    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000

    CLEARWATER -- With the region's first large sea water desalination plant still in the permitting stage, Tampa Bay Water has started studying where to put a second one.

    The first two site options made public Monday might be a hard sell both to neighbors and regulators.

    Both locations disclosed to the board of the region's principal water utility are in Pinellas County -- near the power plant at Weedon Island on the bay side of the county, and on McKay Creek on the Intercoastal Waterway on the gulf side.

    David MacIntyre, Tampa Bay Water's desalination consultant, said neither site could be considered a front-runner, but both are among "many, many, many" options under study.

    Weedon Island is an unlikely choice, MacIntyre said, because the power plant's discharge canal empties into flats and wetlands that do not flush very well.

    That means the brine discharge of a desal plant would not be washed away efficiently.

    And the island is a preservation area.

    "In the end, this site is not likely to be rated very highly," MacIntyre told the board.

    The McKay Creek site near the Shipwatch condominium community is where Pinellas County is in the process of shutting down a controversial plant that disposes of treated wastewater by deep-well injection into the aquifer.

    Pick Talley, the county's utilities director, said the county planned soon to rezone the area residential, so if Tampa Bay Water wants the site for a desal plant it must act quickly.

    St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, chairman of the Tampa Bay Water board, said he didn't think a desal plant would necessarily be inconsistent with a residential neighborhood.

    "If you look at these plants, they're very small," Fischer said.

    He described the desal plant planned for the TECO site in the Big Bend area of Hillsborough County as looking like a "work shed" in comparison to the power plant.

    "Desal plants can be made to look like a house," MacIntyre added.

    A final decision on a site still is months away.

    The reason Tampa Bay Water has fast-tracked a second desal plant reflects the region's dire need for new sources of drinking water.

    It is only two weeks since the official end of the rainy season, and the Hillsborough River is discharging 80-million gallons of water a day, less than 25 percent the normal 340-million gallons a day.

    The Alafia River at Bell Shoals in southern Hillsborough County is discharging 215 million gallons a day, less than half the normal 450 mgd.

    Two wells used to monitor groundwater conditions near well fields in Pasco County are completely dry.

    Although summer rains approached normal in many areas, they would have had to be far above normal to alter drought conditions, according to Warren Hogg, Tampa Bay Water's permitting manager.

    "Barring heavy frontal system rains (over the fall and winter), we don't expect lake levels to begin rising again until June," and many currently are at levels seen only during periods of extreme drought, Hogg said. "We're going into an extended dry period at a very significant water deficit."

    Long-term forecasts predict little relief. The National Weather Service predicts the periods of January-to-March and May-to-August of next year will see below normal rain.

    "That's the take-home message," said Tampa Bay Water general manager Jerry Maxwell. "We're setting ourselves up for a very serious problem this spring."

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