Water supplier ranks desalination plant sites

The top choice for the proposed Tampa Bay Water plant is near the mouth of the Anclote River.

By ED QUIOCO and JAMES THORNER
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 16, 2002

Tampa Bay Water's short list of the six top sites for a seawater desalination plant gives the two highest rankings to spots just north of the Pinellas-Pasco border near the mouth of the Anclote River.

At the top of the list for the proposed Gulf Coast Seawater Desalination plant is the Anclote River Power Plant. That location is followed by a privately owned site north of the power substation on the east side of Baillie's Bluff Road.

The water supplier's next step will be to host open houses for residents to learn more about the preliminary rankings and speak with Tampa Bay Water's project team. The open houses will be Jan. 29 in Holiday and Jan. 30 in Tarpon Springs.

"The input we have found has been invaluable to us in helping us shape our various projects and ensuring that those projects reflect the community's values," said Tampa Bay Water spokeswoman Michelle Robinson. "A lot of times, residents who live in an area can tell us things we don't know."

The ranking, which was developed by Tampa Bay Water staff and consultants, still must be approved by the water supplier's board. That's scheduled for February. When the top two sites are approved, that will begin a new round of more intensive environmental and scientific studies, Robinson said.

Those studies will help answer one of the biggest issues of the proposed desalination plant: where to put the salty concentrate that is a byproduct of the process. The concentrated discharge is about twice as salty as seawater.

The plant will be designed to produce 25-million gallons of drinking water per day. To do so, the plant will need to take in about 50-million gallons of seawater per day. That process would require the disposal of about 25-million gallons of salty concentrate per day.

One option could be to blend the concentrate seawater with the water used to cool the power plant. That would dilute the water before sending it back to Gulf of Mexico.

Another option would be to build a 10- to 13-mile-long pipeline to dilute and discharge the salty concentrate farther in the gulf.

"Those are the two main options that we will be investigating," Robinson said. "We have to do a number of scientific studies and environmental analysis before we know which option will be environmentally sound."

Not everybody is convinced that building such a large pipe is a good idea.

Placing such a big pipe in an environmentally sensitive location is "definitely going to degrade the area," said Mary Mosley, a longtime environmental activist in Tarpon Springs.

"They have picked a very bad spot for a desal plant," Mosley said.

The power plant site is a choice that seems to make sense to Ann Hildebrand, a Pasco County commissioner, Anclote area resident and member of Tampa Bay Water's board.

The site is already industrial and benefits from the presence of the Florida Power electric plant, she said. But the clincher for Hildebrand was the proposal to pipe the salty concentrate 10 to 13 miles into the gulf.

An earlier proposal for an Anclote plant would have dumped the concentrate into the coastal shallows, to the chagrin of environmentalists and fishermen.

"When it came right down to brass tacks, there was only one site that was glaring at you in the face: It was the Anclote site," said Hildebrand, who plans to tour each proposed desal site with the Tampa Bay Water board on Jan. 24.

Five of the top six sites are in Pasco County on the west and east sides of Baillie's Bluff Road. The fifth ranked location is in Tarpon Springs, north of Anclote Road, west of L&R Industrial Boulevard.

The sites were ranked based on several criteria, including the accessibility of the location, proximity to a seawater source and the cost to pipe and discharge the seawater. Officials also considered several environmental factors, such as traffic impact and noise and air pollution, Robinson said.

The location also had to be at least 10 acres to accommodate the proposed plant, which would be about the size of a large grocery store, Robinson said. The plant is scheduled to be completed by 2008.

Tampa Bay Water is the largest wholesale water supplier in the state, providing water to these member governments: the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa and the counties of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas. In turn, these members supply water to about 2-million residents.

One of the advantages to a desalination plant, when compared to other methods of getting drinking water, is that desalination can be a drought-proof way to provide affordable water, Robinson said.

"Water is an essential for life," Robinson said. "It's not a luxury item so it has to be affordable for everyone."

- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.