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Pasco mails its protest of Tampa's water votes

Pasco County commissioners sent an angry letter to Tampa Mayor Dick Greco on Tuesday, protesting that city's vote at a recent meeting of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.

Pasco commissioners are steamed that Tampa's delegate to the West Coast board recently voted with Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg to seek renewal of the operating permit for the Cross Bar Ranch Well Field in north-central Pasco.

Cross Bar and other well fields in Pasco serve Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Pasco officials say overpumping of Cross Bar has parched nearby lakes, wells and wetlands, causing severe environmental damage.

In their letter to Greco, Pasco commissioners said actions by Tampa's West Coast delegate, Mike Salmon, "sent a clear but disturbing signal that the city of Tampa supports overpumping of wellfields in Pasco County."

Tampa also has sided with Pinellas and St. Petersburg in blocking a move by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to reduce pumping levels at four area well fields.

The actions have puzzled Pasco officials because Tampa gets its drinking water from the Hillsborough River and has considered quitting West Coast.

"The City of Tampa cannot take an isolationist position due to the fact that economic growth in the Tampa Bay area has a direct link with water supply development and environmentally sustainable water resources for all of West Central Florida," the letter said.

It adds that a yearlong effort to build "consensus and trust" for future development of water resources "seems to have been totally wasted" and invites Greco, the City Council and staff members to visit Pasco "so that you can see and appreciate the devastation first hand."

Pasco County Commissioner Ed Collins, a member of the West Coast board, said he and his colleagues will ask Greco and his staff to "bring this back up for consideration" at the next West Coast board meeting.

Neither Greco nor representatives from his office could be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the March 17 meeting, West Coast's board of directors voted 3-2 to continue pumping up to 30-million gallons of water a day from Cross Bar. Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and Collins cast the dissenting votes.

Of the 30-million gallons, 5-million would be diverted to help replenish parched lakes and wetlands in the Cross Bar area.

But Pasco officials said that idea makes no sense.

"It's a waste of good groundwater," Collins said. "We could use reuse water out there for that."

Collins proposed that the level be limited to 22-million gallons a day in the first year and 18-million gallons after three years.

Salmon, who is Tampa's environmental services coordinator, said he, too, is concerned about environmental damage in Pasco County.

Swiftmud, which regulates well fields, will have final say on West Coast's Cross Bar permit. The permit application will be submitted this week, said Michelle Klase, spokeswoman for West Coast.

"This isn't a long-term fix, but it's the best we can do until new water sources are brought online," Klase said.

Pasco commissioners adopted a resolution Tuesday urging Swiftmud to force a reduction in pumping at Cross Bar and work with West Coast on developing alternative water supply sources, such as desalination.