Water Sources Slow The Flow For Tampa
March 29, 2009
On Friday, turning on your lawn sprinklers will become a crime in Tampa under the toughest water restrictions in the state.
Everyone else in the Bay area, meanwhile, will be allowed to turn on their sprinklers once a week. Their lawns may struggle and shrivel but likely will survive until the summer rains.
So why did the Tampa City Council impose what may be a death sentence for many lawns?
The simple answer: Tampa's water supply is different.
In Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey, customers supplied by Tampa Bay Water get a mixture of desalinated water and groundwater. The regional utility uses a network of pipelines that means water can flow from the desalination plant in Apollo Beach into faucets in Pinellas.
The city leans on the Hillsborough River for its water, capturing the flow in a reservoir about 10 miles from the river's mouth. Three years of drought, however, means the river barely can supply a quarter of what Tampa customers use on watering days.
The city makes up the difference from its dwindling reservoir, plus a smidgen from Sulphur Springs, treated water stored underground and by turning to a wellfield near Morris Bridge Road owned by Tampa Bay Water.
If the reservoir level falls too low, however, massive pumps can't function and the city can no longer take water from the river or reservoir. If that happens, the city would not be able to get enough water to a good portion of its customers.
The reservoir level is about 5 feet from that point, or where it usually is in May near the end of the dry season, said Brad Baird, director of the Tampa Water Department.
"That's why the city council went as far as it did" in restricting water use, he said.
The sprinkling ban is expected to save 30 million gallons of water a week.
The city took similar measures in the last serious drought that lasted from 1998 through 2001, banning all outdoor water use.
The city's options are limited if it can't use the river and reservoir.
Tampa Bay Water's wellfields north of the city provide 90 percent of the region's water and have enough to meet Tampa's needs, said Chuck Carden, operations director for Tampa Bay Water.
But existing pipes could not carry that much water to the southern and western parts of the city. Water pressure would drop too low, creating a health problem, and pressure would be too low to fight fires, Baird said.
Tampa's century-old water system was never designed to be fed completely from wellfields north of town. The system is centered on the treatment plant next to the reservoir, Baird said.
Building the pipelines that could push water from the wellfields to south and west Tampa with enough pressure would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
Tampa's water supply differs in another way.
The complex deal that created Tampa Bay Water in 1998 binds the utility to providing its other five members - Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey - with all the water they ask for. To do that, it built a distribution system designed to get water to the cities and counties from its various sources.
"The other five governments can just tell Tampa Bay Water to crank the wellfields up more," Baird said.
Tampa, however, wanted to keep control of the Hillsborough River as a source. That independence means the city must rely on the river for its water.
Tampa Bay Water is not obligated to supply Tampa with 100 percent of its water, said Koni Cassini, the utility's finance director. That's not to say it would ignore Tampa's needs if its reservoir drops too low.
"The board will do everything possible to make sure they don't have a public health and safety issue," Cassini said.
The conservation efforts the city has in place should mean it won't come to that, Baird said.
"With these savings, we are confident we can get to the rainy season," he said.
Back to Tampa Tribune Page. . .
Back to Home Page. . .