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Water suppliers say district's
By NANETTE HOLLAND
Tribune Staff Writer
CLEARWATER Regional water suppliers want
to delay restrictions on pumping in Hillsborough,
Sarasota and Manatee counties until they review a
water management district study showing saltwater
spreading into the area.
The West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority,
the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply
Authority and the utility directors of Hilsborough
and Sarasota counties have asked for time to review
the Eastern Tampa.Bay report and its conclusons.
They say the Southwest Florida Water Manage-
ment District is jumping the gun by moving ahead
with olans to curb water use before those affected
have a chance to see the study that prompted the
"The debate has shifted to the regulatory arena,
and we haven't even had an opportunity to review
the scope of the problem," said Ed de la Parte Jr.,
attorney for the West Coast authority, which supplies
water at wholesale rates to Hillsborough, Pinellas
and Pasco counties.
The management district report shows that ex-
cessive pumping of freshwater is allowing saltwater
to burrow inland an average of an inch a day, and as
fast as one foot a day, into coastal areas of Hillsbor-
ough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. It also suggests
the district will have to cut permitted water use in
half to stem the salty tide.
West Coast, which operates a wellfield in south-
ern Hillsborough, has filed a public records request
for thousands of pages of information the water dis-
trict used in the study.
De la Parte moved two copy machines and a
paralegal into the water district headquarters in
Brooksville three weeks ago to copy reams of re-
ports, computer printouts and other materials. The
paralegal has been copying documents eight hours a
day at a possible cost to the authority of $400.a day.
But de la Parte said the cost is minimal com-
pared to the potential impact of new regulations on
public wellfields in the area, including West Coast's
south-central Hillsborough facility, Sarasota's Verna
system and Manatee County's reserve wellfield.
Those and other wellfields in the
three counties supply water to more
than 200,000 people.
Some observers say West Coast,
which seems to be on a collision.
course with the district over its wa-'
ter management policies, may be
stocking its arsenal for a legal chal-
lenge of any new rules adopted by
the district, although both parties
say they hope to avoid litigation.
West Coast is mulling whether to
intervene in a dispute over a permit
issued by the water district to a
farming operation in an area of
south Hillsborough where freshwa-
ter reservoirs are in greatest peril.
Other recent actions by the district
board worry West Coast and other
Last week, for instance, the
board agreed to deny new permits
that would accelerate saltwater in-
trusion in the most severely
stressed area. Board members also
created a giant "water use caution
area" encompassing eight counties
from Hillsborough to Charlotte -
paving the way for water cutbacks,
if necessary, over a much larger ar-
Board members stand by those
decisions as prudent and necessary.
"No matter what we do we're ei-
ther going too fast or too. slow, but
you have to draw the line some-
where," said district board member
Roy Harrell of St Petersburg.
The information West Coast is
gathering from the water district
will be reviewed for technical accu-
racy by the agency's consultants.
West Coast has offered to share the
material with the other utilities.
Several West Coast staff mem-
bers say the district's study of East-
ern Tampa Bay may be scientifical-
ly flawed a charge Peter Hub-
bell, the water district's executive
"Because the management deci-
sions may be severe, the technical
reliability of the work has to be
tops, and I'm convinced that it is,"
The study took four years and
cost $1 million. Critiques of-the
work by independent scientists gen-
erally were favorable.
Sonny Vergara, director of the
Peace River/Manasota Regional
Water Supply Authority, doesn't
doubt the district study is on target
because "we already know the
groundwater system here is mini-
mal at best."
But he also fears the district will
be too hasty in its response. --
"It appears that the inclination'
of the [water district] board is to"
move extremely quickly and we're
very, very concerned about that," '
Vergara said. "We want to work '
with them and we feel we can if
they just give us a chance."
Vergara's letter to Hubbell sug-
gested the district form a coopera-
tive work group of farmers, public
utilities and other water users in the *
area to suggest solutions. The board
approved that idea last week.
Although some board members
have been pushing the district to
move faster, Hubbell said the agen-
cy needs to proceed carefully to
avoid being tied up in court chal-
lenges for months or years. He said
it will take nine to 12 months to de-
velop new regulations and that
water users in the area will have
ample opportunity to participate-in
"We said all along we didn't
want to develop this thing in a vacu-
um," he said. "We have to consider
the Impacts of whatever we do on .
public supply, agriculture, industry
" and even the environment"