Fish farmer, neighbor in dispute as ponds dry
RIVERVIEW - John Buzbee has raised tropical fish on his family farm since the 1970s, producing thousands a month that end up in stores like Walmart and Petsmart. But recently, the water started disappearing in some of his ponds. "It's too hot during the day, the fish can't survive it, and the water is so low that waiting birds can swoop in and eat what is in there," said Buzbee, who owns Buzbee Tropical Fish, near Big Bend Road. Buzbee doesn't have to go far to find what he thinks is the source of the problem. He blames construction at The Estuary, a new subdivision being developed by MI Homes.MI put in a ditch near Buzbee's property line. It's designed to keep storm water from flooding the new neighborhood. But since the fish farm is on higher ground, Buzbee says the ditch also drains water out of his ponds and prevents fresh groundwater from filling them back up. The front of Buzbee's land has ponds with about 5 to 6 feet of water, he said. But the closer the ponds are to the back part of the farm, near MI's construction, the lower the water levels. Some ponds barely have a foot or two of water left. "The ditch keeps [the neighborhood] high and dry, but it has made half my back farm unusable," Buzbee said. Mark Spada, vice president of MI Homes, said his company did only what it was permitted to do by government officials. He blames the weather, not the ditch, for Buzbee's water troubles. "We're certainly in a dry situation," Spada said, adding that his company recently dug several ground-water sampling holes on both MI's property and the fish farm. He said results indicated no lowering of the ground-water table on Buzbee's land. In the meantime, Hillsborough County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Environmental Protection Commission in Hillsborough County are investigating. The agencies say they hope to find out why the ponds are low, and if it has something to do with the new subdivision, MI may be required to make changes. The EPC's initial visit this week showed that MI did not deviate from its permit. But Rick Tschantz, general counsel for the EPC, said some people in the department have concerns about what has happened to Buzbee's ponds and want further testing. "We haven't decided what we're going to do about this situation," Tschantz said.
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