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Long-term flooding fix pricey but worth look

There's no free lunch around Pasco County, just a wet one.

That is the unfortunate realization as the county continues its piecemeal approach to confronting flooding in 26 areas. The county is now pumping water from 14 communities, but in other neighborhoods there is no place to move the water safely.

Flooding complaints number 276, including 39 homes with water inside. Portable toilets are at multiple locations because high water prevents using wells and septic systems.

The federal government will reimburse much of the costs ($52,000 a month only for pumping) because the rising water is tied to Charley and Frances.

But a long-term solution remains elusive because of little public willingness, or political sentiment from commissioners, to commit to a comprehensive, proactive approach to flooding.

The commission has faced public criticism, some of it inaccurate, for allowing too much development to alter natural drainage, failing to address rising water until homes are threatened and even adding to the problem because of its reluctance to allow lawn sprinkling more than once a week.

Increasing pumping might reduce groundwater levels near central Pasco well fields, but it certainly won't alter the ability of saturated neighborhoods in west Pasco to handle above-average rainfall. Some of the flooding is in low-lying older neighborhoods that sit in closed drainage basins predating stormwater regulations.

In response to flooding last year, the county began working on tougher stormwater drainage standards for new developments, saying the Southwest Florida Water Management District's rules weren't strict enough. That matters little, however, to people bailing water in existing subdivisions. A consultant must complete collecting technical data before the ordinance can be drafted for presentation to commissioners.

Previous county plans addressing flooding have met with mixed results. Attempts to buy flood-prone property succeeded in Lost Lake near Zephyrhills when 10 homeowners agreed to sell after the El Nino storms of 1997, but only six of 22 homeowners at Bass Lake in west Pasco showed the same willingness in 2003. The county used grant money to construct a $7-million, 200-million-gallon reservoir to retain rainwater near Betmar Acres and other Zephyrhills mobile homes.

But other areas remain under water because of resistence generated by the expense of long-term solutions. A comprehensive drainage plan for the county remains on the shelf nearly a decade after it was authored because of the nearly $29-million price tag.

A proposed fix for drainage problems is that Aristida would carry a $100,000 price tag to be borne by 20 homeowners. And the county and the Anclote River Basin Board are expected to split a $500,000 study to devise long-range options for Thousand Oaks and the Trinity area from State Road 54 to the Anclote River.

There is no easy solution. The expensive fixes most likely will have to be absorbed via special assessment districts, which can be problematic because of equity issues. Not every home within a district will benefit from an expanded network of culverts and drainage pipes. There will be little support from the owner of the highest elevated house to pay for a solution benefitting only the property at the bottom of the incline.

Self-interests are understandable on pocketbook issues. But the county should at least offer its residents options, the most likely of which is to bite the bullet or buy a mop.