Tampa supports pumping water from Morris Bridge Sink

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Hillsborough River
The Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. By Seán Kinane. Sept. 2009.

Unless they can work out differences by next week, it’s possible that several local governments will end up on opposite sides of a legal battle about whether to pump water from a sinkhole in sensitive wetlands near the Hillsborough River; water from Morris Bridge Sink is one part of a plan to restore freshwater flow to the Lower Hillsborough River below Tampa’s dam. But some environmentalists, like the head of Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission, have suggested there are other sources of fresh water that could be used and the county may file a legal challenge to the permit to pump from the sinkhole.

On Thursday assistant city attorney Jan McLean told Tampa City Council their planned discussion was called off because of potential litigation and that Tampa is on the opposite legal side from the county.

“The City has filed a Chapter 120 petition in order to be a party to the proceeding and be a part of any kind of negotiations that may occur.”

Tampa is joining with the Southwest Florida Water Management District to support the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s notice that it plans to approve SWFWMD’s permit to pump water from Morris Bridge Sink. That doesn’t sit well with City Council member Lisa Montelione.

“We’re the only ones in support of the issuance of that permit. And I wanted to have a discussion here at Council as to why we are in support of that permit when it seems that everyone else around us is against it. But we’re prevented, now, because of the action that our legal department has taken, with the filing of that notice of support, from even discussing the issue.”

One alternative water source that could be used to augment flow below the dam in the Hillsborough River is the reservoir above the dam. But that might mean there would be times the City of Tampa would have to purchase additional water from Tampa Bay Water, which has diverse sources like the regional reservoir and desalination plant. That may have been what City Council member Charlie Miranda was getting at when he said:

“Not Temple Terrace, not Hillsborough County, donates one drop of water for the minimum flows and levels of the [Lower] Hillsborough River. Thank you.”

Tampa City Council will get an update on Morris Bridge Sink during its March 17 meeting. On the other side, Hillsborough County will meet next Tuesday to consider if it will file a legal challenge by Wednesday’s deadline.

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