Guest Column
Tampa Bay Water shows how regional cooperation can work | Column
As board chair of Tampa Bay Water, I’m proud on our 25th anniversary and the critical role we play in providing drinking water to the region.
A Tampa Bay Water surface water treatment plant.
A Tampa Bay Water surface water treatment plant. [ Tampa Bay Water ]
Published Jan. 13

Tampa Bay is thriving as we kick off 2023, adding more jobs than any other metro area in Florida and enjoying a quality of life rivaling anywhere in the nation.

One reason for our success and our bright future: A regional approach to providing a reliable supply of high-quality drinking water that enables Tampa Bay to keep growing without fear of our taps running dry.

Tampa Bay Water observes its 25th anniversary this year, and that is a milestone to celebrate. We may not be a household name, but we serve a critical role in supplying wholesale drinking water to Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties, and New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa. That makes Tampa Bay Water the largest wholesale water supplier in Florida, serving more than 2.5 million residents.

Ron Oakley
Ron Oakley [ PENNI | Provided ]

This is an opportunity to honor the regional water utility’s longevity and to celebrate Tampa Bay Water’s commitment to innovation, the common thread linking our past and future.

For newer residents, it’s hard to imagine the water wars that plagued the region in the 1990s. Our region relied solely on ground water from wellfields in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, but over-reliance on ground water was damaging the environment and lowering water levels in lakes and wetlands. Local governments were spending millions fighting lawsuits against each other.

Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998, as political leaders in all three counties set aside their differences and reached a consensus that made political, financial and environmental sense. Because of their willingness to be innovative, Tampa Bay Water is a shining example of the value of working regionally to meet regional challenges.

Through innovation and regional cooperation, Tampa Bay Water is successfully fulfilling its mission. The environment around our wellfields has fully recovered as our average daily pumping has declined by about 50 percent since 1998 even though our population has grown by about 50 percent. That is a remarkable accomplishment, achieved by smartly adding alternative water supplies and miles of pipes to create an interconnected system balancing the highs and lows of supply, demand, rainfall and environmental conditions.

Among the transformational investments: A state-of-the-art surface water treatment plant, which opened in 2002 and cleans water skimmed from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers. The C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, which opened in 2005 and serves as a big bathtub to hold water that can be used when river flows are low. A desalination plant, which opened in 2007 and helps meet the remaining demand, particularly during dry seasons. The result is a more balanced water supply, with ground water providing just over half of Tampa Bay Water’s production, surface water providing about 44 percent and the desal plant providing the rest.

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Of course, Tampa Bay Water cannot rest on our achievements as the region continues to grow and demand rises for drinking water. We continue to innovate, and in 2022 we advanced plans for a new water pipeline to south Hillsborough County and an expansion of the surface water treatment plant. We are on track to meet our drinking water demands until 2033.

We are still innovating and preparing for the future so the region can continue to prosper. This year, Tampa Bay Water will update its long-term plan to identify new water supply options through 2043. Among the possibilities: adding wells, building a new surface water treatment plant or a new reservoir, expanding the desalination plant, indirect or direct potable reuse – If you can think of a way to generate more drinking water, it’s probably among the options for future supply.

Tampa Bay Water may not be a familiar name to businesses and families that don’t worry about drinking water as long as it is safe and available. That lack of worry is high praise — and underscores why Tampa Bay Water’s 25th anniversary and sustained commitment to innovation is worth celebrating.

Ron Oakley is a Pasco County commissioner and the board chair of Tampa Bay Water, which supplies wholesale drinking water to Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.