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Pipeline to aid taxed well fields

The meandering line on the map represents 7 miles, $22.5-million and a plan to cut the water pumping in west Pasco County to a trickle.

Tampa Bay Water officials picked the route last month for a pipeline that will link thousands of west Pasco utility customers to the larger Tampa Bay Water network _ a system that includes water drawn from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers, and eventually desalinated water from the bay.

As it is now, customers in New Port Richey and the county's west side utility system get their water from the strained Starkey and North Pasco well fields. Once those customers are connected to the larger system in early 2008, Tampa Bay Water will be able to dramatically reduce the pumping in those two well fields.

"This would allow those well fields to be rested and some environmental recovery to occur," said Mandi Rice, project manager for Tampa Bay Water.

The proposed pipeline route stretches 7 miles, following existing jeep trails through the pine flatwoods and palmettos of the Starkey well field. The underground pipe also would cut through a conservation tract owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District before reaching the Tampa Bay Water transmission main.

Officials picked the shortest route that affected the fewest wetlands, Rice said. The proposed pipeline would clip only two acres of forested wetlands, none of them in the conservation tract, she said.

The $22.5-million project, which will be funded by Tampa Bay Water and Swiftmud, will take years to materialize. The project needs permits from Swiftmud, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Picking the route is an important early step that allows the time-intensive design and permitting process to begin, Rice said.

"The permitting process has to be very site-specific," she said, "so we had to have the approved location first."

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