Drought Summit held in Tampa

05/05/09 Seán Kinane
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When the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) adopted modified Phase III water restrictions in December, it required Tampa Bay Water to hold a drought summit “to explore additional conservation options.” The Regional Water Shortage Management Workshop was held this morning at the Tampa Convention Center.

Tampa Bay Water is the region’s wholesale distributor to water utilities in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties. It brought together about 100 members of local governments, water utilities, and the public Tuesday to share information about the current water supply, and to plan for regional water use, according to General Manager Gerald Seeber.

“Both short- and long-term demand management strategies that can be considered by officials in municipal and county government in our region.”

In recent years, 58 percent of the region’s water has come from surface water sources like reservoirs and rivers; 35 percent has come from underground, and 7 percent comes from the desalination plant. The current drought is so severe, that Tampa Bay Water’s supply rotation and environmental protection manager Alison Adams says the main source has shifted away from depleted surface waters. “So as our surface water supply sources become exhausted, we move to our ground water sources.”

Another reservoir, the C.W. Bill Young reservoir, is essentially empty due to the drought and to cracks in its structure. Other sources of groundwater are declining very quickly, Adams says, because of a “dramatic drop” in rainfall. The Alafia River Watershed has gotten nearly 26 inches less rain than normal and the Hillsborough River Watershed has endured a rainfall deficit of more than 47 inches since October 2006.

David Zierden, Florida’s climatologist, says ocean temperature patterns in the Pacific Ocean can affect rainfall patterns in Florida, especially during the winter dry season. He also pointed out that overdevelopment has decreased the amount of rainfall in the state.

“Summertime rainfall differences of 10, 15 percent or so, in the West Central Florida area, simply by changing the land-use: draining wetlands, converting the areas into agriculture. So we are affecting our climate here in Florida in substantial ways.”

To deal with these water shortages, last month Tampa enacted the most severe water restrictions in the region: irrigation of lawns is not allowed except by hand watering.

Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda is the only elected official to attend the entire meeting and says that decision makers should pay attention to land use decisions and to water conservation.

“Land use is one of them. Conservation is very important and in that respect, the city of Tampa’s had almost a 20 percent reduction in water [use] comparing these months with the last year’s months. So I think that’s very significant and it’s an applaud to all the citizens – those 2.5 million this area that use Tampa Bay Water – that is responsible for the decrease in our water [use], which is a great thing for us to have at this time.”

Swiftmud's water use restrictions call for local water utilities to “consider implementing a drought surcharge to address their high-use single-family customers.” A St. Petersburg Times report in March found that “35 Tampa Bay homeowners used more than 1 million gallons of water last year.” And last week the Tampa Tribune reported that the phosphate mining company Mosaic is Swiftmud's largest consumer of water, using 17.77 billion gallons in 2008.

Anthony Hairston, managing consultant with Public Resources Management Group, suggested factors to consider when implementing a drought surcharge.

On May 28, during a Tampa City Council workshop, the city will present a reclaimed water master plan report. Steve Daignault, Tampa’s administrator of public works and utility services, says it will address a possible drought surcharge.

“We’re going to be looking at our tier structure, kind of like they made a presentation in here today, of knowing your system and knowing where the breaks are -- who starts using more waters where does that leap, that change in the graph occur. And we’ve done that. And so we’ve identified two additional levels of high users and so we’ll be trying to address those within our tier structure but by having new tiers – new additional high tiers and rates for those high users.”

David Moore, Swiftmud's executive director, says the supply of water can be increased, but only if customers are willing to pay a premium.

“I think that the limit, when it comes to water, is going to be economically driven. We are having to go to more and more expensive water. If you’re willing to pay five dollars per thousand gallons, it’s been demonstrated that you can take seawater and convert it to drinking water.”

There is good news, according to Moore, who stressed that pumping of groundwater has decreased in the last 25 years.

Residents of Florida use less water than people in the rest of the U.S. and the Tampa Bay region uses even less, according to Moore, in part because it implements reclaimed water more effectively than “anywhere in the globe.”

Swiftmud is requiring utilities to “consider implementing a reclaimed water availability fee (to encourage customers with access to reclaimed water to use it for irrigation, instead of using drinking-quality water).”

Daignault says Tampa is considering incentives and penalties to get more people to hook up to the city’s reclaimed water service.

Current Swiftmud modified Phase IV restrictions

Find the water restrictions for your local area

Swiftmud December 2008 modified Phase III restrictions

Tampa Bay Water

Cracks in Young reservoir

St. Pete Times on residential water users

Tampa Tribune on industrial water users

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