September 2018 – How water from the environment gets to your tap can be a complicated process. Local governments often develop their own sources of water to supply to their residents. These are often public supply wells drawing on ground water from the Floridan Aquifer or surface water from a river. Access to these natural resources is not without restrictions and consideration of the potential impacts to the environment.
Water Management Districts (WMDs) are regional water regulatory agencies that are charged with managing water for both people and the environment. Local governments must apply for a Water Use Permit (WUP) from WMDs to withdrawal water from the environment. WMDs use this permitting process to ensure the withdrawals will not cause significant harm to natural resources. WMDs also maintain and periodically update a Water Management Plan which assesses future projected population and demand of water with what sources are available from the environment to ensure local governments have viable options for meeting their water needs in the future.
The Tampa Bay area has a history of conflict among local governments competing for limited water resources. To end this conflict, Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 after a two-year process that resulted in contracts and legislation that changed the name, structure and operations of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. The creation of Tampa Bay Water ended the region’s ‘water wars’ and created a new alliance between the six governments in west-central Florida: Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa. These governments agreed to allow Tampa Bay Water to take over their local water supply sources and have them combined under Tampa Bay Water’s regional system. One exception to this is the City of Tampa, which retained its withdrawal system on the Hillsborough River. Tampa Bay Water is also subject to permitting and regulation of the Water Management District to ensure its water withdrawals do not impact natural resources.
Under Tampa Bay Water, the local member governments work together to develop and supply drinking water to their residents in an environmentally sound manner. The costs of new supply development and environmental stewardship is shared among its members. Tampa Bay Water has developed a diverse and environmentally sound system of water sources, shifting away from a previous reliance on heavily stressed and over used ground water.