Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater residents in uproar over proposal to dig 13 new deep water wells in the city

CLEARWATER — Thirsty for a cheaper source of drinking water, Clearwater plans to drill 13 wells in various parks around the city to pump more water from deep underground.

Some residents are in an uproar, fearful that more pumping will lead to sinkholes as well as saltwater intrusion into the aquifer. They worry that their residential wells will go dry or become brackish.

The city is trying to reassure the public that the wells won't cause any problems. But the doubters say there are too many unanswered questions.

"This could be a disaster. It is pure, unadulterated folly," said Dr. Louis Alan Zagar, one of several concerned neighbors in east Clearwater's Northwood area, which is ringed by proposed well sites. "There will be a whole bunch of straws sucking out the water directly from under our homes."

City engineers say scientific research backs them up, and the new wells will be closely monitored to make sure there are no side effects.

"I can understand people having some doubts, but we have been doing this for a long time," said Robert Fahey, Clearwater's utilities engineering manager. He insists that officials are being environmentally responsible: "We live here, too."

This comes as nearby cities are seeking to tap new sources of potable water. Dunedin is negotiating a deal to drill two wells on local land owned by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. And Tarpon Springs plans to start treating brackish groundwater.

Millions of gallons

Clearwater already has 19 deep water wells and pumps nearly 4 million gallons a day, or MGD, from the ground. It buys the rest of its drinking water from Pinellas County, which buys it from Tampa Bay Water, the region's wholesale water utility.

But it costs about $1,000 more per MGD to buy it, compared with the cheaper water that Clearwater produces for itself. And water rates are expected to rise. The city is drilling more wells primarily to save money, said engineering director Mike Quillen.

The new wells will cost a total of $3.5 million and should pump 11/2 MGD, so the city will make its money back over time, Fahey said. The city has the permits it needs from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Clearwater's Community Development Board.

The City Council okayed this last year but will discuss it further at a work session Monday morning because of a recent spate of phone calls and e-mails to City Hall.

Homeowners near the well sites were recently notified about the project in advance of a city zoning hearing. They started asking questions.

Their concerns run the gamut. Some don't want unsightly wells near their homes, and are worried about property values or whether their ponds will dry up.

Others have bigger environmental concerns. Northwood residents like Gary Shellenberger and Harold Becker did some research and found U.S. Geological Survey reports that link pumping from the aquifer with a greater threat of sinkholes.

Citing other examples, they fear that excessive pumping of underground water could lead to saltwater intrusion from Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, irreversibly contaminating the freshwater reservoir in the aquifer.

Still, the city and its consultants say the new wells will be safe. Fahey said the U.S. Geological Survey reports in question are from other parts of Florida where the geology is different.

David Wylie, a hydrogeologist working for the city, testified to Clearwater's Community Development Board that:

• Clearwater's geology makes it less prone to sinkholes than areas to the north. Clearwater has an underground layer of clay, while places like Pasco and Hernando counties and even Safety Harbor have little or no clay layer.

• The new wells will have little impact on the aquifer's water levels, which already fluctuate 5 to 15 feet between the rainy and dry seasons. Clearwater's wells will lower it about a foot.

• The new wells will actually help prevent saltwater intrusion by spreading out the pumping, so no single well is overpumped. The Southwest Florida Water Management District also concluded this before approving the city's plan.

Still, when suspicious residents at the development board hearing asked Wylie for an ironclad guarantee that nothing will go wrong, he couldn't give them one.

"I would never guarantee anything … no hydrogeologist would," he said, prompting jeers and catcalls from the crowd. Wylie added that the odds of a problem happening are "very, very slim to none."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.


View Clearwater drinking water wells in a larger map

Clearwater residents in uproar over proposal to dig 13 new deep water wells in the city 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 1:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay deputies head to UF to assist with Richard Spencer's speech

    Public Safety

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Thursday.

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Oct. 19, 2017. 
As officials brace for Spencer's appearance, law enforcement officials streamed into Alachua County the morning before. [Alex Wroblewski | The New York Times]
  2. Gymnast McKayla Maroney alleges sexual abuse by team doctor

    Olympics

    Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

    U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney poses after completing her routine on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women's qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Maroney posted a statement on Twitter Oct. 18, 2017, in which she said she was molested for years by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. [Associated Press]
  3. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again

    News

    Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]
  4. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Uncertainty surrounds Jameis Winston's health

    Bucs

    Greg Auman talks about the Bucs' quarterback situation, with uncertainty around Jameis Winston's health, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Jameis Winston takes the field for warmups before the Bucs' game against the Cardinals Sunday in Glandale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Pasco mom, caretaker face charges after toddler suffers fractured skull

    Crime

    PORT RICHEY — A 13-month-old toddler who suffered severe head injuries and brain hemorrhaging is now in the care of a foster family, and both of the child's caretakers face felony charges.

    Wyatt Frank Laughlin faces a felony charge of aggravated child abuse after a 13-month-old child in his care suffered a skull fracture and clots in the brain and eyes. [Courtesy Pasco County Sheriff's Office]