People think the Florida story is told through its bustling metros. Well, sure, but what’s happening in Zephyrhills is a snapshot of Florida, too, as even smaller communities look to balance growth, resources and their quality of life.
Last week, the Zephyrhills City Council tentatively agreed to a moratorium that could stop new development and annexation applications by late June. In recent months, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Barbara Behrendt reported, water usage has spiked, bringing the city close to its limits. Factoring in the water already promised to new projects, City Manager Billy Poe said that, without a development pause, “we were going to be short of water.” A pause would buy time for the city to generate additional supply.
The city has an active water use permit with the Southwest Florida Water Management District that authorizes use of 3.3 million gallons per day, as the Times explained. The city’s current pumping average is 2.5 million gallons a day, and an analysis shows that expected future projects could push that figure to more than 4 million per day in less than two decades. “The city has indicated to the (water management) district over the past year that they are concerned with projected growth and would like to modify the permit to obtain an increase,” agency spokesperson Susanna Martinez Tarokh said. “This permit application is currently under review.”
Zephyrhills recently became Pasco County’s largest city, and this moratorium would be a responsible step in managing these growing pains. Council member Steve Spina, who spent 20 years as the Zephyrhills city manager before his election, said he saw the city’s usage top 3 million daily gallons, underscoring the need for city officials to address the impacts of continuing development.
Zephyrhills draws water from the Hillsborough River Basin, a watershed that also serves growing Hillsborough County. (Hillsborough gained 233,662 residents in the past decade, the second-most of any Florida county.) Poe said that the water source is “constrained,” and that it doesn’t take much additional withdrawal to impact the surrounding ecosystem. The pause would bar new annexations or residential development, though industrial and commercial uses and small residential projects would not be affected. (The water bottling operation in Zephyrhills accounts for only a fraction of water use in the region and has little to do with the current crisis.)
Zephyrhills’ move came the same week that Tampa killed consideration of its latest plan to add highly treated wastewater to the city’s drinking water supply. Tampa’s treatment plant discharges about 50 million gallons of treated wastewater daily into Tampa Bay, or about 20 times what Zephyrhills’ currently pumps. That is a huge waste, and local leaders need to get the politics and messaging right so that further scientific studies can explore a more sensible public use for this valuable resource.
Being proactive about providing additional water supply is not only smart. It sends a message to the business community that city government is a dependable partner, an essential selling point for economic development. Zephyrhills seems to be taking a reasonable, balanced approach to sustaining its growth. The city is also talking with fast-growing Pasco about coordinating on growth-related concerns, including transportation priorities. No community grows in a bubble, or is immune to the impacts of its neighbors. That’s why a regional perspective and commitment to collaborate is critical across Tampa Bay.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.