Dispute Resolution

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) for 12 consecutive months. 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.

"You don't sacrifice environmental sustainability."

Kathy Castor

The objective of the Partnership Agreement was to restore the natural environment by developing alternative supplies that would reduce the need for groundwater pumping. SWFWMD, Hillsborough County and Pasco County believe running the plant at a limited capacity contradicts these objectives and delays them from being achieved.

Partnership Agreement Objectives

• Develop at least 85 million gallons per day (mgd) of new water supply by December 31, 2007, of which 38 mgd must be produced by December 31, 2002
•Reduce groundwater pumpage at 11 wellfields from 158 mgd to 121 mgd by the end of 2002 and to 90 mgd by the end of  2007
• End existing and minimize future litigation
• Provide funding to assist in the development of the new alternative supplies

It’s a complicated issue with economic and environmental consequences for all of us. In 2005,Tampa Bay Water argued that running the desalination plant at 25 mgd will greatly increase the cost of water for its customers. It’s true that the cost would increase somewhat, roughly 10 to 14 cents per 1,000 gallons. In a 2005 Tampa Bay Water survey, however, the majority of residents of the Tampa Bay region say they are willing to pay much more than that to support new supplies. (Survey)

Furthermore, the cost to taxpayers for the restoration of the environment after it has been damaged is more than the cost to prevent the damage in the first place. The slight increase in the cost of water is a small price to pay to prevent further damage to the fragile aquatic ecosystems of our region. Or to risk the investment we’ve already made in environmental recovery.

"It's not working right now."

Ronda Storms

Tampa Bay Water wants flexibility in deciding which combination of water supplies to use. At the same time, SWFWMD committed over $300 million taxpayer dollars to Tampa Bay Water and Member Governments projects. That included $85 million to Tampa Bay Desal (90 percent of the original construction cost). Fiscal responsibility demands that SWFWMD, Tampa Bay Water and the member governments maximize the public investment.

To justify this policy change, Tampa Bay Water developed a computer-model to determine how much water should be utilized from each water source for maximum cost-efficiency and minimum environmental impact. But, experts who evaluated the model say that it was predisposed to choose groundwater sources rather than the alternative supplies.


"Desal is going to be as cheap as cleaning up our polluted waters."

Eileen Hart

The use of alternative supplies already helped reduce pumping near and below 90 mgd from late 2002 through mid 2005. Due to this, the once-intensely stressed environment in Hillsborough and Pasco Counties has begun to show indications of recovery. Despite this Tampa Bay Water has increased groundwater pumping to over 114 mgd from 90 mgd.

"Compromises were made..."

Pick Talley

As a result, recovery of the natural systems in Pasco and Hillsborough has slowed, and in the worst-case scenario, potential further damage to the environment may have occurred. In signing the Partnership Agreement, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties, environmentalists and residents believed the region was moving to a better water policy.

While desal may not be the answer—increased groundwater pumping is the issue that started our problems


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