Alafia River reclassification put on hold

10/18/07 Seán Kinane
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Earlier this month the director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water recommended that portions of the Alafia River receive more protection. But on Monday, the region’s water supply Board of Directors unanimously decided to wait until its Dec. 17 meeting to decide whether to request the reclassification.

Currently, the Alafia River is categorized as a Class III water, which means that it is safe for recreational use and protects fish and wildlife. But Donald Polmann, Director of Science and Engineering for Tampa Bay Water, along with staff and consultants, recommended that Tampa Bay Water should request reclassification of the Alafia to Class I, which means the water has to be safe enough to be a public water supply.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is on the board of directors of Tampa Bay Water. He said that Monday’s vote to delay the decision on whether to recommend reclassification of portions of the Alafia River made sense.

“It was a unanimous vote and I think it was a wise move. This is a major decision for the region and myself and Hillsborough County are committed to being regional partners in the water issues for our area.”

According to an Oct. 3 letter from Donald Polman to Jerry Maxwell, general manager of Tampa Bay Water, reclassifying the Alafia River “will provide meaningful protection of the drinking water source while balancing the needs of existing users on the river. The proposed reclassification boundaries achieve this balance and in most cases reflect no impact to existing users and dischargers to the river” and would result in “substantial economic benefits to the 2.4 million [water] customers in the region.” Jerry Maxwell said that compromises were made in order for the request to be supported by all parties.

“I think it’s a very careful and very evenhanded approach. And it’s an approach that the economic impact analysis suggests is very, very positive toward the 2.4 million ratepayers. …”

Denise Layne, with the Sierra Club, says one reason Tampa Bay Water may want to reclassify the Alafia River is to shift the financial burden of treating the water from Tampa Bay Water if the river is Class III to the polluters and to Hillsborough County taxpayers if it is Class I.

Higginbotham feels more time is needed to review the data that led Tampa Bay Water personnel to recommend reclassification.

“No one got the information for a final decision until within the last 10 days. And it’s too important a decision to make without letting the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, the agricultural and economic folks here in Hillsborough, our County Attorney, and anybody else, stakeholders included, the opportunity now to go through the scientific data and the economic data.”

Polmann’s letter also said “under state and federal law, the highest and most beneficial uses of the Alafia River … [are] for public drinking water supplies.” Higginbotham said that because he has not yet reviewed all of the information, he has not made a decision on how he will vote in December.

“No, sir. We have requested this information for quite some time. We made another formal request in writing on Monday and we’re still waiting, because it’s a lot of material. And in our EPC meeting today, I asked Dr. Garrity if his staff had received the data, the models that scientists and engineers look at and he said that they have received some of it but not all of it. And I don’t think it’s fair for the region or Hillsborough County to make a final decision until we have everything in front of us.”

Dr. Richard Garrity, who was referred to by Commissioner Higginbotham, is the Executive Director of the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission. Tampa Bay Water’s Maxwell thinks that the petition requesting reclassification of the Alafia River will move forward in December.

“The discussion at the meeting was fairly positive about answering the public’s call to develop alternatives to groundwater. Now we need to insure that the river sources that replace the groundwater are appropriately protected from future pollution and I think that additional time will simply support the petition.”

One company that wrote a letter to Tampa Bay Water requesting a delay on their decision was Mosaic Fertilizer. WMNF requested a comment from Mosaic but did not hear from the company by airtime.

The Tampa Bay Water board will vote on whether to request that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reclassify portions of the Alafia River and the Tampa Bypass Canal from Class III to Class I. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Dec. 17 at Tampa Bay Water in Clearwater and is open to the public.

Learn More:

Tampa Bay Water

Alafia reclassification

Mosaic Fertilizer

Hillsborough EPC

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