CLEARWATER — New tap water for the Tampa Bay region will come from an old source.
On Monday, the board of Tampa Bay Water — the region’s wholesale water supplier — voted unanimously to expand an existing plant in Hillsborough County to treat more water drawn from the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal.
The vote was the culmination of a nearly four year-long study on how to meet future water demands for residents and businesses in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.
The expanded plant has a projected construction cost of $90.7 million and will increase the water supply as much as 12 million gallons each day. So-called surface water treatment accounted for 43% of the 189 million gallons of water the utility delivered daily during July.
The board picked the expanded plant over more costly alternatives. Building a new surface water treatment facility near the C.W. “Bill” Young Regional Reservoir in eastern Hillsborough carried a price tag of $145.6 million and expanding the desalination plant in Apollo Beach had a projected expense of $310 million.
The expanded surface water plant, west of North Falkenburg Road, is expected to be completed by the end of 2028.
Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers noted the expansion helps Tampa Bay Water move “a little bit, not much, but a little bit” away from its reliance on groundwater.
“I think it’s healthy,” Eggers said.
Tampa Bay Water is required to update its master water plan every five years and it already is beginning the revision to provide new water sources for 2033 and beyond. Both the expanded desalination plant and a new surface water treatment facility will be considered again as part of the update, said Maribel Medina, the utility’s senior engineering manager.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen said the utility needed to diversify its portfolio of future water sources since expanding an existing treatment plant meant Tampa Bay Water was “doubling down on one.”
“I think that as we do that (updating the future plan) we’ve got to go a little outside the box and start being a little more bold,” Cohen said. “If we’re going to be conservative in our approach this time around, which I think we are, I think we really need to look at new technology, and new sources in the next round.”