Desal plant fully functional - finally

12/17/07 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

This morning in Clearwater, the Board of Tampa Bay Water received a positive report on the progress of the desalination plant and also moved forward with reclassifying the Alafia River as a source of drinking water.

Tampa Bay Water is responsible for the drinking water needs of residents of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties as well as the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.

The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant in Apollo Beach has been plagued with performance problems throughout most of its five-year history. The coalition of American Water-Pridesa was hired in 2004 by Tampa Bay Water for $29 million to remediate the desal plant. A two-week performance test at full capacity was needed in order for the facility to move from remediation status to the beginning of full operating status. Kent Turner is on the board of directors of American Water – Pridesa.

The acceptance test of the country's largest seawater desalination facility occurred in October and November. During the first week, the facility was required to produce 28.75 million gallons per day (MGD) of drinking water; it actually produced more than 29 MGD. In the second week, the requirement was 25 MGD and it produced 25.23 MGD. But Turner said that the successful test was not without challenges.

When the desal plant is producing at full capacity, it will provide nearly 10 percent of the region’s drinking water, according to Tampa Bay Water. But in about two years, the Alafia River and the Tampa Bypass Canal might be additional sources of drinking water for the region.

In October, the director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water recommended that the Tampa Bypass Canal and portions of the Alafia River be reclassified as Class I waters, which means the water has to be safe enough to be a public drinking water supply.

Doug Robeson, a senior environmental scientist and vice president with PBS&J, said the river must meet certain criteria for water quality reclassification.

The Alafia River is currently categorized as a Class III water, which means that it is safe for recreational use and protects fish and wildlife, but the river would receive more protection if it is reclassified as Class I. In October Tampa Bay water put on hold its decision to reclassify the waterways because of pressure from the two Hillsborough County commissioners serving on the Tampa Bay Water board, Mark Sharpe and Al Higginbotham.

Sharpe said he was concerned about cost to the county and to farmers, and that not enough information was available about the current level of pollutants in the waterways.

In order to have the waterways reclassified, Tampa Bay Water has to apply to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who is stepping down as a member of the Tampa Bay Water board, said there is still time for Sharpe’s concerns to be addressed during the application process.

Forty-two point five miles of Alafia tributaries, including 14 miles of the main river channel, and 10 miles of the Tampa Bypass Canal will be considered for reclassification.

The board of Tampa Bay Water voted to apply for reclassification of the Alafia River and Tampa Bypass Canal. Sharpe and Higginbotham were the members to vote against the measure.

Tampa Bay Water’s General Manager Jerry Maxwell will be retiring after 13 years in the position. At the meeting the five candidates in the running to replace him were announced. In addition, the Tampa Bay Water board elected its officers. Susan Latvala was re-elected as chair and Mark Sharpe was re-elected as vice chair, but only after another person was nominated.

Ted Schrader nominated Charlie Miranda to be vice chair and then outgoing board member Rick Baker nominated Sharpe. Miranda received three votes, which was not a majority on the nine-member board. Sharpe was then was unanimously re-elected. The next Tampa Bay Water board meeting will be Feb. 18 at 9 a.m.

Learn more:

Tampa Bay Water

Previous WMNF report on Alafia River reclassification

Previous WMNF report on desal plant

Desal plant info from TBW

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