PORT RICHEY — Pat Stewart drove his city utility truck down an uneven dirt road off Bandura Avenue, hopped out of the vehicle and hit the switch.
That simple act Tuesday evening activated the fourth of the city's new wells — and marked the completion of a three-year project that city officials hope will eventually end their decades-old reliance on New Port Richey for water.
"The Department of Environmental Protection sent a final clearance letter to the city saying all the tests were done right and bacteria levels were proper," said Stewart, the city's utilities supervisor.
"We had permission to turn it on, and it felt great," he said. "It's been a long time coming."
The city of 3,200 already had three wells up and running near City Hall on Ridge Road when officials unveiled a plan three years ago to end their reliance on New Port Richey for water.
Back then, more than a third of Port Richey's water came from its neighbor: From October 2006 to September 2007, Port Richey pumped 241-million gallons from its own wells, and bought another 137-million gallons from New Port Richey for $535,539.
Port Richey officials decided to boost the city's supply by building four more wells using a $3-million bond issue.
When construction on those wells wrapped up in March, a consultant at U.S. Water told city officials not to cut off their access to New Port Richey water. As the city grows, the consultant said, it would need more water and access to an emergency supply.
So the City Council agreed to extend its bulk water purchasing contract with its municipal neighbor.
Now, with $1.3-million left in the bond issue — $1.7-million was used for the construction of the wells — two features are being added to keep the system running smoothly.
City officials plan to install a computer system that could be controlled at the water plant behind City Hall. The system would allow city officials to turn the wells on and off without having to drive to the well field, which is about a mile away from City Hall.
In addition, a second above-ground storage tank will be installed at the water plant so the city can store 1.4-million gallons of water in case of a hurricane. (An existing tank already can hold 400,000 gallons.)
City officials are relieved that the bulk of the project is complete. "It's something we needed," said Mayor Richard Rober, "and it will help our capacity for water supply in the future."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.