Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Belleair explores cheaper drinking water alternatives

BELLEAIR — A rise in utility rates could be on tap for residents if town leaders can't figure out a safe, affordable way to keep drinking water clean.

Within five to 10 years, officials say, they expect desalinating water with the town's decades-old filtration system to become impossible.

Converting the water plant to a reverse-osmosis system could cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $11 million, an initial study showed. So, at the direction of the finance board and Town Commission, the staff is researching options. They include:

• Buy water wholesale from Pinellas County, Tampa Bay Water or Clearwater.

• Sell all or part of the water system to another municipality, meaning a possible departure from the water production business altogether.

• Implement one of three smaller-scale reverse-osmosis methods, which treat a portion of the brackish water and blend it with well water treated under the current system.

"We know our current treatment methodology won't take us into the future," said Assistant Town Manager J.P. Murphy. "In looking at the cost of all these options, we're sensitive to making sure we keep the water rates reasonable and affordable for our citizens."

The water filtration question that Belleair and its roughly 1,600 water customers face is one that has plagued other North Pinellas cities.

Murphy said Belleair has been pumping its own water from the ground and then treating it with chloramine, fluoride and other chemicals to make it safe for drinking since at least the late 1960s.

The town operates about 10 wells, but it has had to shut down and move several east over the years as officials combat increasing saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico and local aquifers.

Then there's Dunedin. Heightened salinity levels, along with high iron that turned tapwater as brown as iced tea and gases that smelled like rotten eggs, prompted the city in 1992 to consolidate neighborhood wells and open one of the bay area's first reverse-osmosis plants, said assistant public works and utilities director Paul Stanek.

Clearwater, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs have turned to reverse-osmosis plants to ward off the rising cost of buying water from the county. The Oldsmar plant, which opened in 2012, cost $18.7 million. The Tarpon facility, slated to open in 2015, cost $43 million.

Belleair property owners pay a base rate of $12.37 a month, plus other costs based on volume. The average monthly bill for a homeowner using 4,000 gallons and no irrigation would be $20, Murphy said.

He said proposed plans for a 33-room boutique hotel plus 132 condos and townhomes on the Belleview Biltmore property wouldn't exorbitantly stress the existing water treatment system.

Officials estimate that the residential units would use nearly 1.6 million gallons a year.

Belleair's plant is currently permitted to produce 1.5 million gallons of water per day — or 528 million annually — yet puts out only about 800,000 to 900,000 gallons daily.

"It will put pressure on," Murphy said, "but it's not so much exponentially larger that the town couldn't handle it."

Officials expect to receive preliminary reverse-osmosis and wholesale estimates by the end of the month.

Research of the sale of the system will take longer.

Town commissioners could publicly discuss the issue as early as this fall.

Contact Keyonna Summers at or (727) 445-4153. Follow @KeyonnaSummers.

Belleair explores cheaper drinking water alternatives 07/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:24am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa


    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.