Turn on the tap Thursday in southwest Pasco and the flowing water will be unfamiliar. It'll be clear and odor free. At least that's the aim, though the 20,000 customers formerly served by Aloha Utilities, may see initial turbidity and some residual black water. Don't worry. It will be temporary and should clear up in a week to 10 days.
Thursday, the Florida Governmental Utility Authority's on-site operator — U.S. Water Services Corp. — throws the switch on an improved water treatment plant, 6.5 miles of water mains and five connections to Pasco County Utilities. Water drawn from nine existing wells will be treated at the plant with chlorine and ammonia and mixed with water purchased from Pasco County for delivery to homes and businesses in Seven Springs.
The milestone concludes the 16-year saga of complaints about black, smelly water that sparked squabbling among customers, the utility's private owners, elected officials and the Public Service Commission. Two years ago, FGUA purchased the utility from Aloha for $90.5 million and began short-term changes to better the water quality immediately, and a two-year capital program that culminates this week with a permanent fix.
Besides the improved product coming from domestic taps, the new system will benefit the environment by reducing groundwater pumping to an average of 2 million gallons per day. That is half the production Aloha relied upon when it routinely exceeded its permitted capacity. For the time being, the new utility plans to deliver just 2.8 million gallons of water to its customers, with more than a quarter of it purchased from Pasco. Demand is down because of customers' conservation and the prevalence of vacant homes and shuttered businesses.
The plant, pipes and connections cost less than the projected price of $7.8 million, and the utility now plans to seek a smaller-than-expected rate increase beginning Oct. 1. "We used to get rate increases with no improvements to the water,'' deadpanned John Andrews, chairman of the citizens advocacy group that pushed for change.
His and other customers' patience is about to be rewarded with better water for drinking, cooking and bathing.