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A drying Pasco raises outcry

It's hardly news to county commissioners: Central Pasco's lakes are drying up as millions of gallons of water every day are pumped out of the county to thirsty neighbors to the south.

But frustrated residents here are becoming more vocal in their opposition to that pumping, and they are looking for more than hand-wringing from Pasco leaders.

Shady Hills resident Steve Monsees on Tuesday implored commissioners to take a more active role in protecting Pasco against over-pumping, and suggested the county might even be financially liable for the loss of lakes and ponds so many property owners have faced in recent years.

"Present Policy has resulted in the destruction not only of lakes, ponds and wetlands on the 8,000 acres of Cross Bar Ranch (wellfield) but also every water resource on the surrounding private property. More than 3,500 acres are gone with many more impacted," said Monsees, a leader of Coalition of Lake Owners Associations recently formed to protect Pasco water resources.

Monsees' presentation drew renewed complaints from commissioners that Pasco is getting sucked dry. Commissioner Ed Collins asked county staff to give him information on what options Pasco had to defend its water supplies, including withdrawing from region's chief water supplier, the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.

But Monsees said he did not want to see Pasco step back into the era of water wars, when Tampa Bay communities fought bitterly over the county's water supply. Commission Chairman Ann Hildebrand, who serves as chairman of the regional water supply authority, agreed with him. She noted the water authority offers Pasco some protection against surrounding communities pumping out more water from Pasco.

For the short term, Pasco hopes to augment some of its dry lakes with funding from Swiftmud and West Coast. The county has applied for a $700,000 grant from Swiftmud for lake augmentation, and West Coast has indicated it might spend about $1-million in Pasco for the same purpose. A network of pipes would refill some of Pasco's most damaged lakes.

In other business Tuesday, Commissioner Bonnie Zimmer accused Commissioners Sylvia Young and Hap Clark of illegally discussing proposed changes to Pasco's nudity regulations before the board voted on the matter recently. Her comment drew angry responses from Clark and Young.

"You are absolutely wrong _ another time," Young said.

The exchange came after Helen Koczur of Pasco Right to Life complained about the board taking no action to update the county's restrictions on nudity. At Clark's urging, the board two weeks ago voted 3-2 to delay a proposal to make minor changes to Pasco's existing nudity regulations. The proposal involved adding some definitions and clarifying restrictions against hot dog vendors wearing T-back suits.

Koczur, citing health problems such as AIDS, said the county needed to guard against more adult businesses entering the county. She noted that more than 6,000 Pasco residents signed a petition last summer supporting regulations to keep out adult book stores, lingerie shops, T-back vendors, nude bars and adult theaters.

County staff members say existing county regulations, particularly zoning codes, are effective in thwarting such businesses. Residents such as Koczur want more..

"Unfortunately, there's only two votes (on the commission) in favor of 6,000 people who signed this petition. I apologize for that," said Commissioner Ed Collins, who voted with Zimmer to tighten Pasco's nudity regulations.

"That's 6,000 votes you'll get," Clark told Collins.