1 OA TIMES i TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 1997 **
The uncertainty of water
Swiftmud's curious decision to set a "minimum flows"
standard that would sharply cut well-field pumping
only adds to the confusion and contention.
With mounting criticism over its decision For the Tampa Bay region to sustain its
to set a "minimum flows" environmental stan- water supply into the next century, absent the
dard that could reduce well-field pumping in pointless and costly litigation of the past, the
the Tampa Bay region by up to 73 percent, the West Coast Authority needs to continue for-
region's water regulator has offered a curious ward with its plans to consolidate into a
response: We didn't really mean it. full-fledged utility. If anything, Swiftmud's ac-
Said Honey Rand, spokeswoman for the tion last week is a stern reminder that no wa-
Southwest Florida Water Management Dis- ter supplier has a blank check for the future,
trict: "Even the environmental groups realize and that all the local governments Pinellas,
(it) wasn't attainable." St. Petersburg, Hillsborough, Tampa, Pasco
So it was a practical joke? will have to rely on each other to assure
In deciding last week to set a "minimum their own drinking water supplies.
flows" standard that could drop pumping in 11 Unfortunately, some Pinellas officials have
regional well fields from 144-million to 40-mil- used the Swiftmud rule to attack West Coast,
lion gallons a day, Swiftmud not only shocked and the county's legal warrior, Ed de la Parte,
the cities and counties that would be forced to already was busy last week issuing a 48-page
ration or find alternatives; the agency also jolt- attack on the West Coast governance plan.
ed itself. The minimum flows standard direct- But Pinellas County Commissioner Steve Sei-
ly contradicts the agency's own "recovery bert has been involved long enough in the re-
plan," a plan it has so vigorously advocated gional water debate to understand the com-
that it has offered $183-million to help cities plexities. If the county has a grievance, it is
and counties pay for new water sources. In the with the regulator, not the supplier. Its cha-
recovery plan, the pumping target is 90-mil- grin is with Swiftmud, not Wes Coast.
lion gallons a day. Seibert put it well on Monday: "What I'm
To his credit, Hillsborough County Com-
missioner Ed Turanchikcalled a special meet- looking for are workable solutions, and to get
ing of the West Coast Regional Water Supply past the history of extremes. A lot of people
Authority on Monday, so that the member are trying to seek middle grouAd, and this de-
governments could react to the Swiftmud ac- cision by Swiftmud is not fostering that.
tion. Each member rejected the Swiftmud As if to emphasize their owh regulatory
rule. Turanchik crumpled his copy into a wad, confusion, the Swiftmud board members last
and tossed it on the floor. week added an unusual twist to the adoption
The next step has to come from Swiftmud, of their new water standard. In voting to ap-
which is in a position now to review its action. prove the new rule, they also voted to sunset
The staff itself had recommended a more the provision in two years; in other words, in
moderate course with the minimum flows the face of certain appeals, the rule probably
rule, one that would sensibly align the stan- would never take effect anyway.
dard with the recovery plan. But in the mean- With continued development growth and a
time the water suppliers in the Tampa Bay re- water supply system that is already strained,
gion, particularly Pinellas County, can't allow the Tampa Bay region faces enough uncer-
Swiftmud's ill-considered action to hurt their tainty about its water future. It doesn't need
own plans. Swiftmud adding any more.