Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Schematic of a reverse osmosis membrane filter

As drought demonstrates over and over we cannot rely only on rainfall for our water supply. It is necessary to plan for the unpredictable and unexpected. The Partnership Agreement that ended the Tampa Bay’s water wars addressed this by requiring the development of new “drought-proof” supplies.


The Tampa Bay desalination plant is a drought-proof alternative source that was designed to relieve pumping from a stressed environment. Many people believe it was intended to supply 25 million gallons a day (mgd) of freshwater to the Tampa Bay region (with the capability to produce 28 mgd if necessary). Tampa Bay Water says that they never intended to run the plant at 25 mgd and while that was disputed, the Water Management District has relented and reduced the requirement from 25 mgd to  12.5  million gallons a day.

"...the reality is that new water alternatives are always costly."

Ronnie Duncan


"Tampa Bay Water is now fighting for ground water pumping."

Ronda Storms

Tampa Bay Water now thinks running the plant at 25 mgd everyday would be too costly to consumers. In 2005, Tampa Bay Water reported the difference between running the plant at 15 mgd and 25 mgd would be $1.10 per month or less. Hillsborough County and the citizens who participated in the 2005 survey believe that this price would be a bargain for protecting the environment. Instead of running the desal plant at 25 mgd, Tampa Bay Water has now reduced its required output to 12.5 mgd, allowing them to rely more heavily on groundwater which is the only source that has caused environmental degradation in Pasco and Hillsborough Counties.


During the water wars, water was moved from Hillsborough and Pasco Counties to serve people in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Today, Tampa Bay Water serves Hillsborough and Pasco Counties, too. The issue is very complicated. It’s about what’s fair and what’s affordable, about what is good for today and for tomorrow.

According to Tampa Bay Water, the increase in cost to residents if the desalination plant is run at full capacity, instead of 15 mgd is around 10 - 14 cents per thousand gallons of water. The average family uses 8,000 gallons per month, meaning the difference would be from $9.60 to $13.44 a year or somewhere between 80 cents and $1.10 per month.  This slight increase in cost would assist in preventing further damage to ecosystems that have already cost millions of dollars to restore.


A new survey by Tampa Bay Water shows that the public is willing to spend this amount—and much more if necessary—to develop new supplies. In fact, the average increase in price residents in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties said they would pay is $6.45 a month. That would be just over $77 a year —much more than it would cost to run the desalination facility as designed at 25 mgd.

"...water is getting very expensive."

Susan Latvala


"...becomes the total cost of the ecosystem."

John Heuer


Most of us understand the value of the environment and are willing to pay to protect it. Every lake, pond and wetland carries significant worth — whether for recreation, or the natural function of cleansing rainwater or just for the enjoyment. The beautiful water bodies of the Tampa Bay region support not only wildlife and plants, but people, too.

Without water, would not be Florida — a subtropical paradise teeming with diverse fish, birds and animals, a playground for boaters, fishermen and swimmers offering a lifestyle like no other place. Water makes Florida special.



Throughout this website, you’ll have the opportunity to play small videos of people who were involved in shaping Tampa Bay’s water policy. They include activists, elected officials, lawyers and experts. All of them were involved in what is called, “Tampa Bay’s Water Wars.” We thought you’d like to hear what they have to say in their own words. We think you’ll appreciate their very different perspectives.

Meet the Experts