Alafia River may be the answer for a thirsty region: Tampa Bay Water

02/20/12 Janelle Irwin
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The Alafia River in south Hillsborough County has been a source of water for the Tampa Bay region since 2003. It accounts for about one fifth of the supply. But Alison Adams, a senior manager for Tampa Bay Water, said more needs to be pumped from the river to meet rising consumption. Right now the utility is allowed to remove 10% of the water above a certain level. In an update to board members this morning, Adams said a permit application asks that percentage be increased to 19.

"It won’t require us to put in any greater pumps, we’re not going to change the intake structure. If you’ve canoed down the Alafia River to that point, down around Bell Shoals, you’ve probably noticed – or you may not have noticed. It’s actually a very innocuous thing; you can’t really see it at all. But, our intake structure would not change. It would not change the flows in the river. It just increases a certain percentage of flows above the minimum flow so we can capture slightly greater quantities of water when the river is flowing higher."

That also means the boost in water supply to the region wouldn’t cost a dime. A no-capital-needed solution to any problem would be a dream come true to most elected officials. But Sandra Murman who is the county commissioner representing Hillsborough residents around the Alafia River is concerned her constituents won’t like the plan.

"They are very, very sensitive to about things that happen to the river and changes. Is there going to be any kind of a public hearing or any kind of notification to a homeowner’s group or something like that to let them know that this is something that is being considered down the road? Because I’m just telling you, we’ve had spells, we’ve had a series of issues and if they are not informed we could have something blow up in our face."

Warren Hogg, permitting manager for Tampa Bay Water, answered. They already have.

"We probably met with 8 or 10 groups and individuals and when we presented what our plan was none of them had concerns. We asked them to spread the information throughout the community and the concerned citizens of the basins and we got no feedback of concern. And I know that Hillsborough County staff also reached out to those groups and got no feedback."

And senior manager Alison Adams said there are already regulations in place to ensure the ecologic safety of the river.

"The water management district has established what the minimum flow in the river is to protect the environmental aspects of the river and we are not allowed to take any water when the river is at or below those flow levels."

The permit application was filed with the Southwest Florida Water Management District in 2010. Adams said the process took so long because SWFWMD required a series of detailed analyses. But Tampa Bay Water will present what she expects to be the final phase of answers to the water management district this spring. An action item is expected to be presented to the board for approval sometime this summer.

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