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Tampa's votes on water leave Pasco steamed

Pasco officials are growing irritated that Tampa keeps siding with Pinellas County in the regional water war.

On Tuesday, the Pasco County Commission voted to try a direct approach to reverse that: a letter to Tampa officials reminding them about dry lakes and wetlands in Pasco.

The most recent vote by Tampa came Monday at a meeting of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. The city voted with Pinellas and the city of St. Petersburg to seek renewal of the operating permit for the Cross Bar Ranch Well Field.

Cross Bar and other well fields in Pasco serve Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and the groundwater pumping has been blamed for environmental damage.

Pasco County Commissioner Ed Collins offered an alternative at Monday's meeting that would have gradually reduced pumping at Cross Bar over three years. None of West Coast's four other member governments endorsed it.

Tampa also has sided with Pinellas and St. Petersburg to legally challenge a move by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, to reduce pumping at four area well fields.

Unlike other members of West Coast, Tampa gets drinking water from the Hillsborough River. The city has considered dropping out of the water authority.

"It annoys me. . . . I don't know why" Tampa votes as it does, Collins told fellow Pasco commissioners Tuesday.

The board agreed to write Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and the Tampa City Council a letter detailing the effects of groundwater pumping in Pasco.

"No one is holding their feet to the fire," said Collins, Pasco's delegate to West Coast. "Just because they may be self-sufficient (in water) doesn't mean they can't care about their neighbors to the north."

Mike Salmon, Tampa's delegate to West Coast, said Tuesday he is well aware of environmental problems in Pasco but had little choice. "We need to have the water the (West Coast) staff says the public demands," he said.

Cross Bar has pumped an average of about 20-million gallons of water a day recently. But West Coast staff members said at Monday's meeting that the authority may need to pump up to 25-million gallons a day there.

Collins proposed that the level be capped at 22-million gallons a day this year and cut to 18-million gallons a day in three years. By then, West Coast will complete new water facilities in Hillsborough, producing an additional 20-million gallons a day, Collins said.

Salmon, who is Tampa's environmental services coordinator, made a motion Monday to cut Cross Bar's pumping to no more than 23.5-million gallons a day for three years. No one seconded it.

Salmon then joined Pinellas and St. Petersburg in a motion to request pumping of 25-million gallons a day for three years. Pasco and Hillsborough voted no.

Swiftmud, which regulates well fields, is reviewing the proposal.

Salmon said that during Monday's meeting, "I said I was very concerned about the environmental damage occurring up there (in Pasco). I'm not sure if he (Collins) heard me."