TAMPA — Another dry season is upon the Tampa area, and once again water managers will have to make do without the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir.
The 15½ billion gallon basin east of Tampa hasn’t been much help in slaking the thirst of area residents in recent years.
It’s been providing water in the region since 2005, but abnormal cracking in the erosion-control layer forced the regional water supplier to begin draining the massive earthen tank a few years ago. The reservoir is nearing the end of a multi-year project to rebuild the walls so they are waterproof.
Water management officials said the area will be able to get by using water from the aquifer and other sources until the reservoir is fixed.
“There’s no concern,” said Brandon Moore, spokesman for Tampa Bay Water, the region’s main water supplier. “We’ll definitely meet the demand. It’s been raining more (over the winter), and our surface water-treatment plant is full, and that has put us in great shape for the dry season.”
Tampa Bay Water hired Kiewit Infrastructure South to design and build the long-term fix, and Kiewit began construction last year. The work involved removing the existing erosion-control layer, adding drains to the bowl and coating the reservoir’s interior with thicker, stronger soil cement.
A plastic liner also is being draped down the sloped sides of the reservoir, and workers are almost done with the task of laying down the five miles of white tarp.
“We’re on schedule,” Moore said. “We’re still set to do a partial filling in the beginning of August to take advantage of those summer rains.”
The plan is to fill the reservoir halfway in the fall, to about the 7.5 billion gallon mark, he said.
While the reservoir is out of commission, Tampa Bay Water is relying on a variety of water supply methods, including a series of well fields and siphoning from the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers during the rainy season each year.
That water is stored in the reservoir for the dry season before it is filtered and pumped to the region’s water distributors, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties and the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Also pumping out water now is Tampa Bay Water’s desalination plant, which comes on line as a last resort, but which now is pumping out about 20 million gallons of water a day, Moore said. The plant has been creating fresh water out of salt water since the fall to cover the dry months of the winter and spring, he said.
“It is our most expensive source,” Moore said. “We’re running it right now for the dry season, and we’ll turn it off during the summer rains when we don’t need it. We rotate it in as needed for the dry season.”
At capacity, the desalination plant can provide about 10 percent of Tampa Bay Water’s total water output.
The reservoir project, expected to be completed in the fall of 2015. The renovation costs $162 million, $16 million more than the cost of building the reservoir in 2005.
Tampa Bay Water was able to fund the beginning of the project through existing bond proceeds, which held off rate hikes directly attributed to the construction. But when the project is completed, monthly water rates could increase about $1.20 per household.
The concern over a water shortage surfaced in December when the Southwest Florida Water Management District imposed water-use restrictions, citing low aquifer levels and reduced river flows.
On Tuesday, the district’s governing board re-addressed the issue and continued the Phase II restrictions imposed in December, though it loosened the rules a bit by allowing twice-a-week lawn watering as opposed to once a week that had been in place.
District officials continue to urge homeowners to water lawns only when necessary.
“We are asking residents to continue to be prudent with their water use, especially outdoor irrigation, at this time,” said district board Chairman Carlos Beruff. “It’s important to be mindful of our water supply.”