End Dade City ban on private wells, official suggests

DADE CITY — Concerned about private property rights, a Dade City official is questioning a city ordinance that has been on the books for almost 30 years.

Commissioner Steve Van Gorden wants the city to rescind a 1980 ordinance that prohibits personal wells on private property. The rule is outdated and violates individual rights, he said.

But proponents of the ordinance said it safeguards the city's water system.

Jose Gil, public works director and city engineer, worried that if the ordinance is rescinded, an improperly maintained well could leak contaminants back into the city's main production wells. He said the city does not have enough resources to maintain a surge of new private wells in its limits.

To understand Gil's concern, you have to look at the placement of the city's four main production wells. All are located within blocks of each other downtown.

Gil said their close proximity means that in the rare case of a leaked contaminant, the city's entire water system would be at risk.

"You contaminate one, you contaminate the four," he said.

Individual municipalities determine whether private wells are allowed within city limits. But residents have to go to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, for permits.

Van Gorden said he trusted that Swiftmud officials wouldn't allow someone to build a well that could potentially harm the city's water system.

Tony Gilboy, manager of Swiftmud's well construction and regulation program, said the agency approves more than 5,000 shallow well permits annually in west central Florida.

Gilboy was not personally familiar with the construction of Dade City's main production wells. He said he could not verify Gil's concerns without examining the wells' protection methods and depths.

"There's a lot of ifs," Gilboy said.

The forbidden shallow wells, usually no more than 50 feet deep, are mostly used for irrigation purposes. After paying the upfront cost of installing the well, residents don't have to pay the city for well water, giving some city officials another reason to oppose rescinding the ordinance.

"It's environmental as well as business," said Mayor Scott Black.

But Van Gorden doubts that many people will rush to the well driller, considering well construction costs start at $3,000.

"In today's economy, there's not many people who want to fork over that much money," Van Gorden said.

A handful of people with private wells dating to the 1920s were grandfathered in when the 1980 ordinance went into effect. Throughout the years, the city has had only a handful of requests from citizens who want private wells.

Ben Huss, who owns Huss Drilling in Dade City, said he doesn't think there is enough water 50 feet below the surface for an irrigation well.

Gil said certain parts of Dade City could offer water at the shallow depths, but to Huss, the work wasn't worth the effort.

"In Dade City, it's not going to happen," he said.

Van Gorden will talk to Swiftmud officials to learn more about the possible environmental effects of wells.

He has no personal stake in the ordinance's outcome, he said.

"I don't own any stock in a well drilling company. I just think it should be an option."

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (352) 521-6518.

End Dade City ban on private wells, official suggests 05/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 2:12pm]

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