The Tampa Tribune: “Hillsborough, Pasco dramatize water war”

 In News Archives, Water Wars

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik led a pack of elected officials on a fishing trip in a dry Pasco County lake Monday, angling for attention.

Standing in a small boat on the dry bottom of Big Fish Lake, Turanchik, Hillsborough Commission Chairman Jim Norman, a state legislator and four Pasco commissioners wanted to show what they say are the effects of pumping at nearby wellfields.

The most recent skirmish in the region’s water wars has turned into a war of words.

The event, brainchild of Turanchik, was in response to a $300,000 campaign by Pinellas County that included an eight-page tabloid in Sunday’s Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times.

“We want to dramatize the fact that you cannot pump groundwater without an impact,” Turanchik said.

That dramatization included the commissioners mockingly fishing from a boat on dry land.

“This may seem lighthearted,” said State Rep. Carl Littlefield, R-Dade City, “but we’re actually pretty incensed that the pumping continues at the same level and may increase.”

While the officials criticized the expense of the Pinellas County advertising, Monday’s event was not without some cost to taxpayers.

A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, which costs $120 an hour to maintain and operate, flew Turanchik to the lake and back. Pasco County’s administrator and utility director were there along three four-wheel drive county vehicles.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District provided two vehicles and staff members, including its executive director, Peter Hubbell.

“We got what we call experts at 10 paces facing each other and talking about technical issues,” Hubbell said. “The impact can be lost in all the rhetoric. Other areas have rebounded, so there has to be something else that’s having an effect here. We believe it has a lot to do with pumping.”

Big Fish Lake is near two major wellfields — Cross Bar and Cypress Creek — and has been dry since 1990, according to a member of the family that has owned the lake and thousands of acres around it since the 1930s. It covered up to 500 acres.

The lake went dry in 1956 during a severe drought but filled the next year when rainfall returned to normal.

Norman said the lake was chosen because it’s so isolated that development and changes in drainage would not affect the lake levels. Pinellas County officials maintain those are two causes of lakes and wetlands.