Tampa Bay Times: “Water war gets more heated”

 In News Archives, Water Wars

07/17/96

A Hillsborough County commissioner, miffed at what he perceives as high-handed treatment by some neighboring governments, will ask today that the county refuse to fund and support a plan to develop new water resources.

And if changes aren’t forthcoming in the way water issues are handled in the region, Commissioner Ed Turanchik says, Hillsborough should look for a legal means to develop new water resources for itself and close county borders to everyone else.

Virtually all of the new water projects envisioned for Tampa Bay involve surface and ground water from Hillsborough, “so if we go our own way and Pasco goes its own way, it would leave St. Pete and Pinellas up a dry creek,” Turanchik said Tuesday.

The threat is the latest bit of disintegration in general water relationships that are supposed to be cooperative but seem to grow more parochial and fractious by the day. First was the decision by the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority board, over the strong objections of Hillsborough and Pasco, to seek a new permit for a small well field on the Hillsborough-Pasco border that could eventually double the amount of water pumped from it.

Second, there was West Coast’s decision to pursue litigation against the Southwest Florida Water Management District over a permit for a well field owned by Hillsborough over Hillsborough’s objections.

And third is the concept of West Coast involving itself in litigation that pits member governments against each other.

In one of those cases, scheduled to begin Monday, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and West Coast are fighting the water management district over pumping believed to be doing property and environmental damage in Hillsborough and Pasco.

“Our resolve has hardened,” Turanchik said. “Pinellas, St. Pete and West Coast have to get over their fixation with the water management district and start listening to their partners and respecting the wishes of [water] donor counties.

“They have to treat us as a partner, not a victim. Being a partner means not blithely trampling the interests of Hillsborough County. We don’t want another government coming into this county and violating its citizens and its environment.”

In a related development Tuesday, the water management district approved a settlement plan worked out between its staff and Hillsborough County staff that would end litigation over a pumping permit renewal for the Northwest Hillsborough well field. Hillsborough owns the well field but West Coast operates it as part of the regional water supply system.

The litigation is part of the case scheduled to be heard Monday.

“But West Coast won’t go along with the settlements,” Turanchik said. “They insist on pursuing a needless fight. This is exactly the kind of senselessness we’ve been dealing with in this region, and it has to stop.”

Pasco County commissioners, meanwhile, approved a plan Tuesday to spend up to $15,000 to bring the county’s own water message to the Tampa Bay area’s airwaves.

The county expects to air radio advertisements on a handful of stations at peak drive times — 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. — for two weeks beginning July 29. The message: Water pumping to satisfy the region’s thirst for water is destroying Pasco’s lakes and wetlands.

Pasco officials say the advertising is necessary to counteract a $300,000 newspaper and radio ad campaign by Pinellas County suggestion that no regional water shortage exists.