Long Process of Repairing Tampa Bay Reservoir Continues.
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04/19/10 Matthew Cimitile
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C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in June 2009 when it was nearly empty.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

The Tampa Bay Water Board held a public meeting this morning in Pinellas County. They discussed the reservoir, and progress on its renovation.

Over three and a half years ago, the first cracks—measuring 1,900 feet—were discovered at the newly erected C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in Hillsborough County. John Kennedy, a Tampa Bay Water engineer and project manager, said the cracks began when water was drawn out of the reservoir.

The key here is that there are times when water goes in, and times when water goes out. We started noticing our problems, which was the subject of the litigation in late 2006. It wasn’t on the initial fill-up, wasn’t on the initial draw-down; it was on the second draw-down cycle. We continue then to fix cracks, and finally launched a several-million-dollar short-term repair program to get DEP to lift the limits on filling this reservoir.

The 15 billion-gallon reservoir, which was constructed to reduce the Bay Area’s reliance on pumping groundwater, has been half full until recently. At today’s meeting, the board moved one step closer to fixing the nearly four-year headache permanently by assigning a building contractor to oversee the success of the repair job.

The reservoir has returned to its full capacity. The key here is that we need to have the reservoir fix with a contractor on board after construction is complete so we can measure the success of the fix before we release the securities, whether that is enhanced retainage, letters of credit or whatever. But we want our design build contractor to be on board after the construction is complete.

The permanent fix of the reservoir is expected to cost $125 million—which could mean a rate increase of 13.5 cents on every 1,000 gallons of water used. This is on top of the $140 million it cost to construct the reservoir. This left some council members questioning the price tag and the permanent repair itself. Neil Brickfield is a Pinellas County commissioner.

Q. The reservoir is full today.

Yes, sir.

Q. And it is not leaking.

That’s correct.

Q. So technically, it works, hold water; we can draw down on it.

It does work at a reduced rate of draw-down.

Q. It just doesn’t draw down as fast or as much per day as we thought the design would be.

That is correct. And in addition, our experience has been that we anticipate having to perform short-term repairs on the next draw-down cycle of any significance.

Q. And that is why we are doing all this.

Yes.

In order to permanently fix the cracks, the reservoir will be fully drained. It is expected to take two years to permanently repair the cracks, but it is up to environmental conditions when the repairs will take place. Gerald Seeber is general manager of Tampa Bay Water.

With regard to when it will be needed. We don’t anticipate using significant amounts of water from our reservoir this year. It’s because of things that happened yesterday. With continuing rainfall in the area, there is plenty of water in the flow of the river to meet our surface water needs without having to make use of the water stored in the reservoir facility. And as the board may recall, cracking tends to appear only when we begin to draw water out of the reservoir. So we don’t anticipate using any here, since it is already the middle of April and we’ve used virtually none. We anticipate this reservoir will stay full and certainly will be full by the end of the wet season and going into the 2011 dry season.

Now, in 2011, unless we have another el Niño winter, we will expect to make use of water in the facility, and when that occurs there is the potential for cracking to reappear. It is incumbent upon the agency to undertake repairs to the facility as soon as cracking occurs, so we can fulfill our obligations to Florida Department of Environmental Protection and maintain the integrity of that erosion control layer.

The reservoir is part of a suite of alternative water sources to offset large groundwater pumping that were producing sinkholes and draining swamps in the 1990s. Other alternative sources include a desalinization plant, a surface water treatment facility and other conservation and reclaim water activities. Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda said the reservoir—like all other water sources in the region—is needed to cope with greater population.

These are the things that you have to look at. You have to look into the future. We already solved part of the past, but the future keeps changing, because we can’t control population. Years ago, we would have had enough water for everybody, because it was a state of three or four million people. Now its twenty. What’s going to happen in 10 years; is it going to be 30? There were some stats in a daily newspaper that stated that Hillsborough County, for instance, will grow by 480,000 people in the next 20 years. What is going to happen then? Can you just rely on groundwater? Absolutely not. Can you just rely on river water? Absolutely not. Can you just rely on desal water? Absolutely not. Can you just rely on the reservoir? Absolutely not. Can you just rely on the bypass canal? Absolutely not? So what do you rely on? A combination of all of them.

The next Tampa Bay Water council meeting will be on June 21.

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