Desal Comes to the Tampa Bay Region

Co-located near the TECO Big Bend power plant in Apollo Beach, the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination plant is still the largest of its kind in the country. Several large desalination projects are moving through testing and permitting in California and Texas, but the Tampa Bay project was the first of its kind. Partially funded through the Partnership Agreement, Tampa Bay Water, and SWFWMD this plant started out as the most affordable desal water in the world. Using reverse osmosis, the plant is designed to produce 25 million gallons a day (mgd) of affordable, desalinated water each day. It was designed to expand to produce 35 mgd, if necessary.

"Alternative water supplies are
essential now."

Doug Manson

It’s no secret that delays and technical problems have plagued the plant since it was purchased in 2002. But, with repairs underway and a new date for the plant to be operational set for sometime in late 2006 it should be part of the regional mix quite soon. The plant is one of the most important components in the ongoing effort to reduce wellfield pumping and increase use of alternative supplies. It is a valuable asset because it can produce 25 million gallons a day or 10 percent of the regional demand whether it rains or not.

"We can store it now."

Bart Weiss

In 2005, Tampa Bay Water announced its plan to run the facility at less than 25 million gallons per day (mgd). The water supplier believes there should be flexibility in the amount of water produced by the desalination plant in order to reduce the cost of water. Tampa Bay Water proposed using about half of the water the desal plant could produce, and supplementing the rest with groundwater, a cheaper source. Hillsborough County, along with SWFWMD and Pasco County was concerned about this policy change, which ultimately led to the process known as dispute resolution. The investment of time and money and the heart of regional cooperation were based on reduction in groundwater use. This change in policy puts relationships and investments at risk. Worse, this shift promotes the return to a regional water policy that failed and cost tax and ratepayers millions of dollars in litigation.

"It's essential that the public suppliers develop the alternative suplies."

Ed Chance


Tampa Bay Water and SWFWMD recently settled the dispute over this plan, with a phased schedule for production Tampa Bay Water will get 25 percent of the $85 million the Partnership Agreement guaranteed when the plant passes the acceptance test. It will then get 50 percent of the funding when the plant operates at an annual average rate (for 12 consecutive months) of at least 12.5 million gallons a day (mgd). Finally, the remaining 25 percent will be granted when the plant has run at a monthly average rate of 25 mgd for four consecutive months. There is no commitment to operate the plant at 25 mgd on an ongoing basis and the alternative to desal offered by Tampa Bay Water appears to be groundwater.



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