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Regional water pact finally gets approval

Proclaiming "death to water wars," a regional water board Friday sealed the area's water future with a historic accord that has been in the making for more than 10 years. "I think it's exciting. I think it's historic," said Phyllis Busansky, chairwoman of the five-member West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. "I think this is the beginning of a true regional look at water, which is the way it should be."

The agreement, which seemed destined for failure as recently as last week, paves the way for the development of the $160-million Cypress Bridge pipeline project. The giant circular pipeline through Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will provide more reliable water supplies for the five members of the authority: the three counties and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Without Cypress Bridge, water would have cost more in much of the area and area governments could have found themselves embroiled in battles over water supplies similar to the "water wars" of the 1970s between Pinellas and Pasco counties.

"The lack of this concept would have had a devastating effect on the ability of this region to develop its water supplies effectively and efficiently," said Busansky, who is also chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Commission. "As we grow, this resource becomes more fragile and more scarce."

The contract approved Friday by the water authority must be ratified by the boards of each of the five governments. But

members of the authority said they expect no further problems.

Despite years of attempts at forging a regional water supply pact, tensions between Pinellas and Pasco counties continued to sideline the proposals.

Since Pasco County sits atop the region's major underground water supplies, officials there sought assurances that Pinellas would not sneak in and steal all the county's water. On the other hand, water is scarce in Pinellas County, where officials sought assurances that the county would have access to enough water for the future.

An agreement hammered out earlier this week between Pinellas and Pasco officials settled those concerns. Pasco retains the right to control the development of new water supplies in most of the county, but Pinellas will be allowed to build new wells in two Pasco well fields without Pasco's permission.

Even that agreement may never have come about if it had not been for the serious problems caused by a 17-mile faulty pipeline that carries water from Pasco into Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The pipeline has burst four times in the last four years, causing severe water shortages and making Pinellas and Hillsborough officials increasingly nervous about their water supply.

"I think what caused this (agreement) to really come about was the pipeline," said Charles Rainey, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission and a member of the water authority. "Like any other governmental agency, things come about by crises."

At the same time, Busansky has pushed hard during the last year for the authority members to forge a new partnership, because new water supplies are needed soon in Hillsborough County and officials there preferred the regional approach to going it alone.

"It was absolutely imperative that Hillsborough move, either inside or outside the authority," Busansky said.

The cost of the Cypress Bridge project, about $160-million, will be split among the five governments according to the amount of water they will receive through the pipeline. Pinellas County, which will receive the most water, will chip in the lion's share of the cost _ $89-million. Hillsborough County will be the other main contributor with $45.39-million.

Under the new pact, each of the member governments will pay the same rate for water purchased from the regional water authority. In the past, the governments have paid different rates according to how much the authority spent on capital improvements to provide water to that government.

Hillsborough County will pay significantly less for water under the Cypress Bridge agreement than if the county had had to develop water supplies on its own, Busansky said. A separate system for Hillsborough County would have cost as much as 30 percent more, she said.

On the other hand, Pinellas County probably will end up paying more under the new agreement, Rainey said. But the price is worth the assurance that the county will have enough water to support growth, he said.

"We're glad to pay it for the comfort factor," Rainey said.

Because the last glitches had been worked out in meetings between officials earlier in the week, Friday's meeting was short and marked with jokes and smiles.

Busansky, confident that the contract would be approved Friday, had special pencils made up with the words: "Death to Water Wars: WCRWSA June 7, 1991."

What the Cypress Bridge "loop' will do

The $160-million Cypress Bridge pipeline "loop" will be paid for by five Tampa Bay area governments in the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. The system will provide 128.4-million gallons per day in the beginning and will be expanded by 1999 to provide 167.1-million gallons to the area. Here's how the costs and the water will be split.

Share of Water per day

Water user cost to Sept. 1994

in millions (MGD)+

St. Petersburg 14.37 11.5

Tampa 4.78 3.8

Pasco 6.42 5.1

Hillsborough 45.39 36.4

Pinellas 89.04 71.6

Water per day Water per day

to Sept. 1999 when completed

(MGD) (MGD)

St. Petersburg 12.9 15

Tampa 4.3 5

Pasco 5.8 6.7

Hillsborough 40.7 47.4

Pinellas 79.7 93

+MGD _ Millions of gallons per day

Source: West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority

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