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A historic water agreement

Now is the time for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties to stand behind the region's historic water agreement. The votes in the coming week could ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars, encourage conservation and point the way for local governments to unify their efforts at solving other problems facing the region.

Water is too precious a resource for local governments to continue going off on their separate ways. Residents and new businesses that relocate to Tampa Bay could not care less about political boundary lines and other parochial interests. What matters is that the bay area can provide quality water at an affordable price, and accommodate growth without causing irreparable damage to the natural environment.

Shaping the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority into a true utility makes sense for political, financial and environmental reasons. By joining hands, the six member governments _ Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, and the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa _ take advantage of the critical mass that has become west-central Florida.

A single utility would reduce the cost of litigation, cut government red tape and reduce duplication of public services. All would save money for taxpayers and are important to luring and retaining industry. Treating water as a regional resource also would make environmental protection a more important component of urban planning.

West Coast members should not be afraid to forfeit their own interests for the sake of Tampa Bay's long-term benefit. That is the change in thinking required for West Coast to succeed. Member governments must prepare to cooperate _ not litigate.

The cities of New Port Richey and St. Petersburg have shown good faith by endorsing the water agreement; this week, Tampa and the county governments should do the same.

Few things are more important to the future of Tampa Bay than the regional water agreement. It has enormous implications for the region's economic development, environmental protection and the quality of life in Tampa Bay. Without West Coast, the region will never get to the next logical and necessary step _ water conservation.

This is a crucial moment for this region and its local governments. It must not be sacrificed to narrow agendas and political timidity. Both local elected officials and residents must understand that there are no good alternatives to West Coast.