Prior to the formation of Tampa Bay Water, the regional water supply wholesaler was the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. The authority was a cooperative, resulting in an economic and voting disparity among local governments. Because each member paid a different price for water and some had their own facilities, it was nearly impossible to develop new water supplies in an equitable manner. Even as the region’s population more than doubled, water supply development idled.
West Coast’s system was 100 percent groundwater. Eleven regional groundwater facilities served nearly 90 percent of the members’ demand for groundwater. The face value of the permits for those facilities totaled 192 million gallons per day (mgd) and annual demand averaged 145 mgd. Although there appeared to be excess permitted capacity in the system, the natural systems could not sustain withdrawals at 145 mgd without environmental impacts. And, as demand increased, so did the environmental effects.
A five-year drought made conditions worse. As the region suffered through the drought and severe water restrictions, citizens who lived near impacted lakes and wetlands were outraged. The Southwest Florida Water Management District, which issue permits for the wellfields, attempted to cut the permit quantities, and at one point, attempted to deny issuance of the permits. The resulting litigation pitted West Coast and the District, and West Coast’s members against each other.
The situation clearly revealed the need to develop new alternatives to groundwater. In December 1995, the West Coast board of directors approved a far-reaching Master Water Plan to develop at least 85 million gallons per day of new water supply and interconnect the regional system.
With a plan approved, the board realized the agency’s structure did not provide a way to fairly pay for the new projects. West Coast’s structure had to change.
In March 1996, a series of facilitated workshops were held to develop funding strategies for the Master Water Plan. During a workshop exercise on April 8, 1996, the concept of reinventing the Authority as a regional utility was a uniform water rate was born.
The idea was innovative and progressive, but required months of examination, investigation and research. In January 1997, West Coast reported its progress to the Florida Legislature, and subsequently, Florida’s state officials passed legislation that encouraged and facilitated the restructuring of the agency, including the following key provisions:
- All Member Governments shall relinquish to the Authority their individual rights to develop drinking water supply sources;
- The Authority shall be the sole and exclusive wholesale drinking water supplier for all Member Governments;
- The Authority shall have the absolute and unequivocal obligation to meet the wholesale drinking water needs of the Member Governments;
- The Authority shall acquire all regionally significant wholesale water supply facilities and tangible assets owned by the Member Governments at an agreed value;
- The Authority shall charge a uniform per gallon wholesale rate to Member Governments for the wholesale supply of drinking water;
- To the extent provided in the interlocal agreement and as permitted by law, the Authority and Member Governments shall develop procedures for resolving their differences over permitting and other issues, including alternative dispute resolution to minimize the potential for litigation;
- The Authority's governing Board of Directors shall be expanded to nine members, two each from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties and one each from Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.
On June 10, 1998, after two years of negotiations, the late Governor Lawton Chiles and legislators from the region joined local elected officials at the Florida Aquarium to sign the restructuring contracts. On that day, Governor Chiles signed into law the bill that facilitated the restructuring.
An integral part of the restructuring was a Partnership Agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. That agreement provided up to $183 million in co-funding for the development of non-groundwater sources in return for Tampa Bay Water and its members agreeing to reduce groundwater pumping. Under the agreement, the face value of the permits for 11 regional wellfields was cut from 192 mgd to 158 mgd. The agreement set deadlines for further pumping reductions from the 11 wellfields as follows: 158 mgd to 121 mgd by 2002; 121 mgd to 90 mgd by 2007.
On Sept. 29, 1998, Tampa Bay Water became a true regional utility, purchasing five regionally significant water supply facilities from member governments and charging each local government the same rate for water.
The past 20 years has served as evidence that significant challenges such as creating a reliable, cost effective and environmentally sustainable water supply can be solved when we come together for a common good.