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    'New' water poses a new problem

    Pinellas wants its supplier to ultimately pay for making new water look and taste better.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- Drinking water in Pinellas County may look and taste different starting in January 2002 unless it gets extra treatment, county officials said Tuesday.

    But county commissioners would like Tampa Bay Water to pay the treatment bill, which could run to more than $33-million.

    In January 2002, when Tampa Bay Water begins giving the county water disinfected with different chemicals, the change in the water's acidity and makeup could corrode minerals inside of the pipes carrying water to county residents. That could discolor the water.

    The problem is expected to worsen in January 2003, when Tampa Bay Water begins mixing treated surface water and desalinated seawater with the ground water it now uses, said Pick Talley, director of Pinellas County Utilities.

    "The new water is different enough from what we've been getting for the last 50 years that there could be . . . problems," Talley said.

    Talley and Interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster on Tuesday asked the County Commission to spend $1.1-million to hire a consulting firm, Jones, Edmunds & Associates, to work on the problem. The consulting proposal was divided into three parts.

    Commissioners agreed to pay the consultants $560,000 for the first phase, to design an interim $3-million treatment system. Talley said that system could be designed and built by December 2001, before the water switch.

    But commissioners voted 4-2 against paying $466,000 for study of a new, $30-million treatment system. The county should wait to see what Tampa Bay Water will do to address the problem, said Commissioner Karen Williams Seel.

    "They may be obligated to help us," she said.

    Without treatment, the new water could get a brownish tinge, the same way that Tampa's water changed this summer when it began mixing water from Sulphur Springs with its regular supply from the Hillsborough River. City officials said the change was harmless, but residents complained about the different color.

    The cost to treat the water would include $3-million on interim chemical treatments and $30-million for a new treatment facility west of the county's Keller treatment plant. The facility would blend different sources of water and treat them more extensively. County officials said it could be completed by July 2004.

    Other areas may face the same problems with the new water, making it more likely Tampa Bay Water will have to address the issue, Seel said.

    Commission Chairman Robert Stewart agreed.

    "What I'm concerned about is it's the first step toward the $30-million cost," he said.

    Commissioners agreed they would return to the issue if they need to.

    But Commissioner Susan Latvala said if the county delays, it could leave residents stuck with bad water. "My concern is we have the water come on line and then we find out we have a problem," she said.

    Latvala and Commissioner Kenneth Welch voted to go ahead with the second phase.

    The third phase would have given the firm $150,000 to work on a public information program.

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