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Dade City mayor sounds bell for water vigilance

It has been two years since a group of private investors sought to unite and gather control of east Pasco's rights to underground water, and a year since that bid failed.

But Dade City Mayor Hutch Brock on Tuesday warned city commissioners that there are still those who covet east Pasco's water. Staff members at regional water authority Tampa Bay Water on Monday recommended the agency consider taking control of the Lake Jovita water system and its 327,000-gallon-per-day well.

The proposal was squashed by a 5-3 vote of the Tampa Bay Water board. The three Pinellas County representatives favored the plan.

"It's just a reminder," Brock said. "We have got to remain vigilant."

Brock said he brought the matter up at Tuesday's city meeting because it was about a year ago that east Pasco municipalities banded together to oppose a coalition known as the Water Group, which tried to create a cartel of water permit holders for leverage against Tampa Bay Water. Municipalities at the time objected to the privatization of water resources, but remained opposed to drilling any more wells to feed Tampa Bay Water.

Tampa Bay Water is made up of Pasco County, Hillsborough County, Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey. The group drills wells where water is available and distributes it through pipes where it's needed. Tampa Bay Water is also in charge of developing other water sources, including the much-troubled desalination plant in Hillsborough County.

When Lake Jovita completed its infrastructure in 2001, Pasco County took over the water system. Under Tampa Bay Water's membership charter, what belongs to one member can be purchased and added to the entire group. Lake Jovita's system could be acquired for about $1.5-million, the water authority's director of science and engineering Donald Polmann wrote in a memo this month.

"Staff recommends that the board approve pursuing further the acquisition of the Lake Jovita water supply facility," Polmann wrote.

He said staff members decided Tampa Bay Water should not go after three other water producers, East Pasco Utilities System, the Sunburst System and the Shady Oaks System, but noted, "The board should retain the right to re-evaluate these systems in the future."

Tampa Bay Water spokeswoman Michelle Biddle said at Monday's meeting the discussion of absorbing water systems centered on Lake Jovita, with little mention of other possible systems.

She said Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand made the motion to back Tampa Bay Water away from a possible takeover of Lake Jovita, seconded by Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader.

Hillsborough and New Port Richey representatives backed Hildebrand.

Brock at Tuesday's City Commission meeting said everyone should be aware of efforts to tap into east Pasco's underground water. Even as leaders at Tampa Bay Water say they aren't pursuing new wells in the area, staff members there continue to investigate.

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