The Tampa Tribune: “Water agency is warned”

 In News Archives, Water Wars

11/18/95

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik is threatening to pull Hillsborough out of a regional water agency if it doesn’t start paying to develop innovative water sources.

On Monday he plans to give fellow board members on the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority a deadline for action.

Turanchik says he wants a funding agreement within 30 days from the authority’s scheduled Dec. 18 vote on whether to approve a 35-year water development plan. And he wants the plan to identify ways to provide 55 million gallons per day of new water in the first five years.

“We cannot afford to wait three to five years before we talk about funding,” Turanchik said Friday. “We’ve got an ecological crisis out there, despite two wet years.”

By next June, he also wants West Coast to ask for bids on the construction of a desalination plant. West Coast officials have said a plant should be developed until at least 2030.

West Coast’s board is made up of representatives from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Turanchik said West Coast’s inability to develop new water sources over the last decade has led to overpumping at regional wellfields. And that has damaged dozens of wells, lakes, and wetlands acres.

Hillsborough could try to supply water independently of West Coast by contracting with Tampa, Turanchik said. Tampa controls water from the Hillsborough River, and it plans to recycle wastewater into drinking water.

Hillsborough Commissioner Dottie Berger said she, too, would consider pulling out of West Coast if it doesn’t do enough to find new water sources.

During a work session Nov. 10, the commission as whole supported taking a tougher stance against West Coast.

“Hillsborough needs to take care of its own constituents,” Berger said. “And I think of Tampa and Hillsborough as a team.”

If Hillsborough pulls out, West Coast officials said, that could cause the other authority’s members to sue for breach of contract. In 1980, Hillsborough signed a contract giving West Coast control of its regional water supply facilities.

Pinellas County Commissioner Bruce Tyndall called Turanchik’s comments “parochial to the Nth degree.” He said Pinellas supports the study of new water sources but not on the 30-day timetable proposed by Turanchik.

“If he decides to pull out, we’ll survive,” Tyndall said.

Turanchik said his comments are a warning, rather than an ultimatum. He said an option to pulling out would be to restructure West Coast to make its governments pay for projects the board approves. As it stands now, he said, members can essentially veto projects by refusing to pay for them. He hopes the 1996 Legislature will restructure the authority.

“We want West Coast to work,” Turanchik said.