PORT RICHEY — Three years ago, the city unveiled a plan to end its decades-old reliance on New Port Richey for water.
The city, which already had three wells of its own, would build four more using a $3-million bond issue. Once those new wells were finished, Port Richey hoped to stop buying water from its municipal neighbor.
Construction has finished, and the new wells should be up and running within 60 days. But aquatic independence will take a little longer.
Port Richey's seven wells could meet the city's needs today, consultant U.S. Water said, but the city will need more water as it grows, as well as access to an emergency water supply. U.S. Water recommended the city maintain its relationship with New Port Richey.
The City Council agreed Tuesday, voting unanimously to extend the city's bulk water purchasing contract with New Port Richey.
The vote extends the 10-year-old contract, which was set to expire in 2009, for another year. Under the new contract, the city will reduce the amount of water it buys from New Port Richey from 200,000 to 100,000 gallons a day for at least a year, while still drawing from its own wells.
"The bottom line is, we have to have a backup plan, regardless," said council member Dale Massad. "But I think we'll be independent in the next year."
Residents say while they hope the city could one day provide its own water without the help of its sister city, they're supportive of the council's decision to renew the contract.
"If the city could ever be self-sufficient, it would be ideal for the city," said resident Mike Latini. "But if it can't, or isn't sure it could, then it's extremely wise to have a backup system. I think the council made a wise choice."
Others say that while Port Richey could operate without help, it's best to err on the side of caution.
"I think the consensus is that it's like a sister city, and we don't want to hurt them by removing them from the equation," said resident Jim Carroll. "The wells could go online and have problems. One day, if it's feasible to be on our own, it's a good thing. But at this point, you never know what could happen."
Construction on the four new wells was completed this year. But before turning them on, the city is going through a permitting process and testing pumping capacity and transmission lines.
The wells project won't have any effect on customers' water bills, City Manager Richard Reade said.
In all, the city's seven wells will be able to produce 1.2-million gallons of water a day.
Reade said the four new wells will help alleviate the water demands placed on the city's three existing wells.
"The three (wells) we have now are running at a high level," Reade said. "We need to take some pressure off these and put it on the new four wells."
From October 2006 through September 2007, Port Richey bought about 137-million gallons of water — worth $535,539 — from New Port Richey.
The city's three wells produced 241-million gallons during the same time period.
Reade said he's grateful for the partnership with New Port Richey, and that he isn't sure if Port Richey will ever operate its water system independently from its neighbor.
"I think we have all become partners," he said. "I don't think we will ever become independent of New Port Richey. We are in this together, and we're trying to help each other."
Tom O'Neill, city manager of New Port Richey, said the water deal has been in place since the '60s. He said about 90 percent of New Port Richey's water comes from Tampa Bay Water, and the rest from a city-owned well.
O'Neill said Port Richey officials can continue to rely on New Port Richey for as long as they need to.
"It's a win-win situation," he said. "We are able to deliver a good product to Port Richey that helps them, and they are able to rely on us."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.