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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Tampa residents suspicious of pumping plan

TAMPA — A plan to pump up to 2 million gallons a day of water from a sinkhole in north Tampa is being met with opposition from neighbors who worry it will harm their water supply and increase the risk of sinkholes.

Water utility officials, though, say the nearly $11 million project is being done as a benefit to the Hillsborough River.

It’s meant to provide a “fresh water zone downstream of the dam to improve the health of the river,” said Brad Baird, director of the city of Tampa’s water department.

Since the 1970s there’s been “days of no flow of fresh water over and through the dam,” Baird said.

Baird and representatives from the Southwest Florida Water Management District tried to reassure an audience of more than 200 residents and property owners Tuesday night that any impacts from the plan to build a pumping station would be minimal. The water management district would pay for half the project, which would pump water to the base of the Hillsborough River dam.

Studies completed on Blue Sink, a large sinkhole northwest of the intersection of 115th Avenue and Florida Avenue where the water would be pumped from, show the plan wouldn’t impact neighboring lake water levels, private wells or increase the risk of new sinkholes forming, water officials said.

Many residents and property owners are skeptical of those claims.

Norman Murray, who attended the Tuesday night Forest Hills Neighborhood Association meeting at Babe Zaharias Golf Club on Forest Hills Drive, worries the pumping plan would draw down water levels and create new sinkholes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“I’m concerned about the sinkhole problem,” said Murray, 62, who owns land at Curiosity Creek, which flows through Blue Sink. “If they are taking water out, they are going to impact sinkhole formations.”

The frustration was evident in the meeting room, with many residents saying they didn’t think water officials were taking their concerns seriously.

“It’s evasive,” said Forest Hills resident Karl Rexford. “At the last minute, they couldn’t answer anybody’s questions.”

Homeowners said they are worried the plan would create new sinkholes, leading to higher home insurance premiums or cancellations, or dry up wells and lower nearby lake levels.

Officials from the city and water management district said studies in 2008 and 2009 showed water levels wouldn’t change much if the pumping plan was instituted. Officials also said the pumping would only be carried out during dry periods.

The water management district plans to present a proposed draft permit to the city next week. The City Council will not vote on the permit, but the public can file formal objections and can submit a petition, said Darrin Herbst, a water use permit bureau chief for the water management district.

If there are no major objections, the plan will be presented to the water management district’s governing board on Dec. 18, Herbst said.

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