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Wells needed to quench growth

Southern States Utilities wants to construct new water wells to meet what it says is a growing customer demand in western Hernando County.

At a 9 a.m. hearing Tuesday, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, will consider letting SSU construct five drinking wells, which the agency considers a "dispersed well field," by the year 2001 in Spring Hill. Two of those wells are scheduled for operation in 1996.

"We don't do it because we like to. It's to meet customer need," said SSU spokesman Tracy Smith.

In addition, the utility is requesting that the permitted annual average use of its 19 existing wells be increased from 10.3-million gallons of water daily to 13.4-million gallons daily. Under the permit, SSU's maximum average pumping for the month would not exceed 20.5-million gallons a day.

As a permit condition, SSU, for the first time, will have to monitor wetland and groundwater levels.

Like any water withdrawal, Swiftmud officials anticipate some impact on Spring Hill's lakes and wetlands. However, the pumping should not hurt the environment or groundwater levels because SSU's wells are scattered, not clustered in a single spot, said John Parker, Swiftmud's water use permitting supervisor.

"It's the concentrated withdrawals that cause the most damage," said Parker, whose staff is recommending approval of SSU's application.

That is the situation in Pasco County at the Cross Bar Ranch Well Field, a collection of 17 wells over 8,000 acres. The water pumped from Cross Bar is piped to the Tampa Bay area, so there is no groundwater recharge, which results in the lowering of lakes, wetlands and the groundwater table.

In Spring Hill, SSU's wells are spread over a 17,250-acre service area, Parker said. Because most Spring Hill customers use septic tanks, the water percolates back into the ground, so the area retains some water, he said.

Because of the scattered wells and the area's recharge capability, Swiftmud does not think the pumping will be noticeable to residents.

"I don't think people will visibly be able to see a difference, but we're concerned that there obviously is a limit beyond which you can't go any further," Parker explained.

The five new wells, which could be moved after the results of engineering and environmental assessments are known, will be built near Mariner Boulevard and Killian Street, in the northeast section of Spring Hill; two will be in the area of Lake Meredith, south of Spring Hill Drive; Deer Street and West Linden Drive, in central Spring Hill; and near Keysville and Cartee avenues in north-central Spring Hill.

No one has filed a written objection or petition against SSU's application. The SSU item is listed on the "concurrence agenda" for Wednesday's meeting, which usually means that if there is no discussion, board members approve the items as a group.

However, Parker expects some discussion.

"I would be surprised if it stays on the concurrence agenda," said Parker, who has fielded calls on the application. Swiftmud mailed 1,900 notices to residents who live within the vicinity of the wells, so some may show for Tuesday's hearing.

Judy Williams, co-chairwoman of the Coalition of Lake Associations, lives in Lutz, but she will attend the meeting. Williams heard about SSU's permit and called Swiftmud with some concerns.

"The problem is that area is already stressed, and I'm not sure this is a great time to do additional pumping," Williams said.

Kay Adams, Hernando County's assistant utilities director, said the county is not "overly concerned" about the pumping. Among other measures, SSU will install rain gauges, photographic stations on wetlands and monitoring wells for the surficial and Floridan aquifers, according to the application.

"That really makes a utility stay on top of it," Adams said.

Smith, SSU's spokesman, said the additional pumping will take place "over time, in stages." SSU, which serves only the community of Spring Hill in Hernando County, needs more water based on projected population figures, he said.

The utility, whose largest accounts include Spring Hill Regional Hospital and the Hernando County School Board, now has 25,228 customer accounts, serving about 60,000 people. By 2001, SSU estimates the population in the Spring Hill area will be 93,837.

If it wasn't for the growth, SSU would not be able to build its wells. This year, the Hernando County Commission passed a two-year well field moratorium that freezes approval for the development of well fields. SSU's objection, for the most part, prompted the exemption in the ordinance. SSU's attorneys opposed the moratorium because it contended the law would improperly restrict the company from serving its population.

County attorney Bruce Snow said that as long as SSU serves population needs within Hernando County, the utility does not fall under the ordinance's restrictions.

"This is water to serve the customers in Spring Hill only," SSU's Smith said. "It's not water that would be intended to be sold outside Hernando County. I know that's a concern there."

IF YOU GO

The governing board hearing will be Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Swiftmud headquarters on U.S. 41, south of Brooksville.

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