A permanent fix for Tampa Bay Water's 15-billion-gallon reservoir could take five years and a still undetermined amount of money.
Given the region's "dire" water shortage, utility officials said Monday they can't wait that long. They want to put temporary patches on the reservoir's cracked walls so they can refill it.
Since August the utility has kept the reservoir less than half full, to allow engineers to investigate the cause of the cracking.
The lack of rainfall during this past summer has left Tampa Bay Water struggling to keep up with the demands of the 2-million people who live in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. "We do not expect any winter rainfall," said utility general manager Gerald Seeber.
In the past, local governments would just pump more water from the underground aquifer. However, such wholesale pumping damaged lakes, rivers and wetlands, and Tampa Bay Water has agreed to reduce its pumping to 90-million gallons a day. The deadline for meeting that goal: Dec. 31.
With no rainfall, achieving and maintaining that lower pumping level has become difficult, Seeber said.
"It certainly is a dire situation that we're in," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, ending a tumultuous two years as chairwoman of the wholesale utility.
Officials from the counties and cities that form the utility say they are all cracking down on people caught violating water restrictions.
Pasco County, for instance, has deputized 30 county utilities employees to write citations in a crackdown on people who water their lawns more than once a week or violate other conservation rules. The tickets start at $30, plus court costs.
Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said county workers there have issued 248 watering citations in the past 30 days. They issued 273 citations in all of 2007.
Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda said he has boasted about his own water conservation efforts so much that it's become something of a joke: "When I walk downtown, people —" Miranda sniffed the air "— they smell me to see if I've taken a bath."
So the utility is asking permission from state officials to patch the cracks in the C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in rural Hillsborough County starting next month, so that by the time the summer rainy season begins at the end of June the reservoir can again hold 15-billion gallons.
Those temporary fixes are likely to cost $1-million or more, engineer Jon Kennedy told the board. The money will come from a special fund the utility maintains from the rates it charges.
Previous efforts at patching the cracks provided only short-term fixes, as they soon reopened.
The utility, which discovered the cracks in December 2006, has sued the companies in charge of building the reservoir.
In other action Monday, the utility picked four potential sites for a second reservoir. Two of the four sites are adjacent to the current reservoir.