Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Water likely to overdraw from aquifer this spring

Despite spending millions of dollars on a reservoir and a desalination plant, Tampa Bay Water expects to pump far more water from the aquifer than it's supposed to this spring, the utility's manager told state officials Monday.

Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber blamed the drought that has afflicted the region since 2006.

"We will need to use more groundwater," he said. "We have no other realistic alternative."

Although the utility has imposed watering limits, Seeber said demand has increased from people who still want to water their lawns — even as the economy has cut back on the number of new customers hooking up to the system.

The utility has spent a decade building expensive new water supply projects, such as the 15 billion-gallon reservoir and the 25 million-gallon desalination plant, to avoid pumping so much water from the aquifer.

In 1998, the utility pumped 147 million gallons a day from underground, damaging area lakes, rivers and wetlands.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District ordered Tampa Bay Water to cut its pumping to below 90 million gallons per day by December 2008.

But the agency, commonly called Swiftmud, put up more than $85 million to pay for alternative water supply sources, such as taking millions of gallons from the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal.

Thanks to those new sources, by last month the amount being pumped from area well fields had dropped to about 87 million gallons a day, Seeber told a joint meeting of his utility board and the Swiftmud board at the Brooker Creek Preserve. Nearly 40 percent of the utility's water supply now comes from the rivers and the desalination plant, he said.

But rainfall in 2006 and 2007 fell so far below normal that even last year's rainfall, which measured up to the low end of the normal range, couldn't make up the deficit. Area lakes and rivers are still far below normal.

That limits how much water the utility can take out of the Alafia and Hillsborough, although Swiftmud is still allowing Tampa Bay Water to drain more water from the Tampa Bypass Canal. Meanwhile the use of the reservoir, where Tampa Bay Water would store that surface water, has been limited by mysterious cracks in the walls.

Lacking any heavy rainfall from a tropical storm or hurricane, the utility's 2 million customers have increased their wasteful sprinkling, Seeber said.

To keep pace with that demand without drawing more water from the rivers is difficult. Instead, the utility expects to pump more than 100 million gallons a day from the ground in March, more than 140 million in April and peak at more than 160 million in May.

"We anticipate that some of the monthly totals this spring will be as high as before the alternate supply sources were built," Seeber said.

The end of June marks the start of the rainy season, and Seeber said he hopes demand will then start to drop.

State water managers may look at tighter watering restrictions next month, a Swiftmud spokesman said.

Such a big increase in pumping will violate the water-use permit that Swiftmud has issued to Tampa Bay Water.

But Swiftmud chairman Neil Combee said that, rather than hammering the utility for a violation, the agency will be working with Seeber and other utility officials to cope with water shortages.

"We're all in this together," Combee said. "We're going to work together and pray for rain."

Combee said he recently heard a television meteorologist say a weekend storm would be bad news, and "I thought they should take that guy out and flog him in the public square."

Tampa Bay Water likely to overdraw from aquifer this spring 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open (w/ video)


    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to win the British Open and usher in a new era of golf.

    Matt Kuchar plays out of the bunker on the 18th hole and finishes with bogey for 1-under 69. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.
  5. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill


    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.