Today, Tampa Bay Water is the only water utility in the United States that delivers a blend of groundwater, river water and desalinated seawater. Our utility is a model of regional cooperation that benefits residents, our economy and our environment. We now work through water supply issues together for the benefit of the region.
However, the transformation and cooperation didn’t happen overnight. It took strong leadership and a paradigm shift from local governments, West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to put aside parochial interests and do what was right for the region.
The process started in March 1996, when West Coast held a series of facilitated workshops to develop funding strategies for the Master Water Plan. During a workshop exercise, the concept of reinventing the Authority as a regional utility with a uniform water rate was born.
The idea required months of examination, investigation and research. Each member government had to consider the ramifications to its customer base. For example, St. Petersburg had the oldest wellfields in the region and inexpensive water rates. Selling those facilities meant higher water rates for its members, but it also meant a reliable supply of water and an end to litigation.
For a member like Hillsborough County, who had no water supply facilities, the choice was easier. Its residents would enjoy a reliable supply of water, and its lands would see the benefits of environmental recovery.
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 utility, including the following key provisions, which can be found in FS 373.715:
- 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 of West Coast into Tampa Bay Water. The creation of Tampa Bay Water ended the “Water Wars” and eliminated the economic competition for water by creating a truly regional utility that is the sole and exclusive regional water provider.