Before 2002, groundwater was the primary source of drinking water for the region.
While the City of Tampa has long used the Hillsborough River as its main source of drinking water, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties as well as New Port Richey and St. Petersburg all relied solely on groundwater.
For decades, dating back to the 1930s, local Tampa Bay governments developed inland wellfields, sometimes outside their jurisdictional boundaries, to meet the growing water needs of their cities and counties. Conflicts arose between municipalities, and as a result, the Florida Legislature in 1974 authorized the creation of water supply authorities to develop and supply drinking water to governmental entities. Tampa Bay Water’s predecessor, the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority (West Coast), was an independent governmental entity whose members included Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The City of New Port Richey was a non-voting member.
However, West Coast was not the sole and exclusive water provider to the local governments. Some owned their own wellfields, but could contract, or “subscribe,” for individual water entitlements from specific West Coast facilities. Some owned no facilities and only subscribed from West Coast. The result was economic disparity among the members, which contributed to the region’s “Water Wars.” Governments that owned decades-old wellfields had inexpensive water. Those that owned no facilities had to subscribe for water from newer, more expensive West Coast-owned facilities.
With varying water rates and subscriptions, it was impossible to develop new regional supplies, meet growing demand and support environmental stewardship. There was no fair and equitable way to pay for wellfield cutbacks and new regional supplies with the existing framework.
Tampa Bay Water's creation in 1998 changed all that. West Coast’s members changed the authority’s governance structure from a cooperative to a truly regional utility that would be the sole and exclusive provider of drinking water to its members. Tampa Bay Water acquired the members’ wellfields, began charging each member the same price for water, and embarked on a far-reaching and ambitious plan to diversify the regional water supply system with river water and desalinated seawater.
An important element to resolving the region’s conflicts over water was the Northern Tampa Bay New Water Supply and Ground Water Withdrawal Reduction Agreement (Partnership Agreement) between Tampa Bay Water and the District. This Agreement, signed in May 1998, ended litigation over wellfield cutbacks, included a new Consolidated Permit of 11 regional wellfields, gradually reduced groundwater pumping from the 11 regional wellfields, and included up to $183 million in District co-funding to offset the cost of developing more costly alternative water supply projects.
Today, the region is served by a combination of groundwater, river water and desalinated seawater, which has reduced wellfield withdrawals by nearly 50% since 1998.
The Southwest Water Management District pledges $183 million in co-funding for alternative water supplies.
Tampa Bay Water breaks ground on its Master Water Plan projects.
The Tampa Bay Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant is completed, introducing the first regional river water supply.
The C.W. Regional Reservoir is completed, serving as the utility’s armor against droughts.
The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant is completed, adding a second alternative to groundwater.
The Tampa Bay Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant is expanded.
Tampa Bay Water begins recovery assessment.
Tampa Bay Water concludes recovery assessment; prepares Consolidated Permit Renewal.