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Approving water agreement is right for county

Ed Collins says he needs to get a new life. His current one evaporates today.

Collins and other Pasco County commissioners are expected to approve the reorganization of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority this morning, ending the long, expensive and acrimonious tussle over the water supply for 1.8-million people in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.

Approving the agreement is the correct thing to do. It puts regional interests ahead of parochialism, includes safeguards for Pasco's environment, and ensures a safe, plentiful and reasonably priced water supply.

Only Pasco and Tampa have yet to approve the accord. The state Legislature also must authorize creation of the new agency to be known as Tampa Bay Water. No significant opposition is anticipated.

"We're not trying to sell something new," said Collins. "We've been talking about this every week for two years."

Projections call for the cost of water in Pasco County to drop up to 5 percent over the first two to three years of the agreement, according to Assistant County Administrator Doug Bramlett. At the end of 20 years, the anticipated cost is 12 percent higher than today's price.

The expenses are to be stabilized by a $29-million cushion provided by a second agreement in which the Southwest Florida Water Management District pays $187-million to the new regional water utility for new sources of water.

Collins is right to be optimistic. He has been Pasco County's point man on water since 1996 and many of the county gains are due to his tenacity. Just two weeks ago, he again refused to back down when West Coast Chairman Ed Turanchik suggested delaying a cut in groundwater pumping in Pasco County.

But even more significant is the role played by about a dozen grass-roots activists like Gilliam and Silbourne Clarke, Judy Williams and Eileen Hart. They brought the issue to the public's attention by providing tours of environmental damage around the county, lobbying county commissioners and state legislators for new water sources, and monitoring the activities of the water district and water supply authority to push for reduced groundwater pumping.

"What we've done is show you can beat City Hall," offered Gilliam Clarke after returning Wednesday from yet another water district governing board meeting in Brooksville. "It's not that difficult. You just have to stay with it."

They are to be commended. Unlike their counterparts in the public sector, these private citizens took on the fight without benefit of financial or political gain.