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.