Tampa Bay Water Approves $162 Million Lithia Reservoir Extension And Rate Increase

The C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, located in Lithia, is now at full capacity thanks to the continued water conservation efforts of area residents and the current weather conditions.

Since the appearance of a crack in the control lining of the C.W. Bill Young Reservoir, Tampa Bay Water utility, which provides wholesale water to the public utility systems of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties as well as the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa have aimed to fix the problem knowing well that it was a tough road ahead.
That was five years ago and, while the decision to fix the problem and to add three billion gallons of water storage sounds great, a three cent rate increase per 1,000 gallons used does not sit well for many.
According to Tampa Bay Water Spokesperson Brandon Moore, Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors approved contract negotiations with design-builder Kiewit Infrastructure Group to renovate the regional reservoir and increase the facility’s storage by three billion gallons.
For starters, the original cost to build the 15.5-billion gallon facility ran close to $146 million. Moore explained that the cost of the expansion and repair will total approximately $162 million, $42 million of which will be used to increase the reservoir’s capacity.
To offset the cost of renovating the facility, Tampa Bay Water will use the monies recovered in the lawsuit against reservoir designer HDR Engineering, Inc., which Tampa Bay Water filed in federal court in December of 2008; Barnard Construction, the contractor; and CDG, which provided construction management.
Tampa Bay Water has reached settlements with both CDG and Barnard Construction. The legal case against HDR Engineering, Inc., is scheduled for trial this month.
So why the rate increase? That was a question asked extensively during the recent meeting including how can such a rate increase be justified.
To sum up the answer, Moore said that the driving factors of the rate increase are power and chemical costs associated with using more surface water and desalinated seawater to meet the 2012 projected water demands and that it is not directly related to the reservoir renovation project.
This explanation does not sit well with residents, since the draining of the reservoir will require the need for the pumping of surface water more and seawater desalination, both of which will incur cost.
The increase, which will reportedly raise rates to $2.55 per 1,000 gallons, was passed on a 5-3 vote.
Unfortunately, if things don’t go as hoped with this month’s legal battle against HDR Engineering, Inc., a boost of about $1 a month is on the horizon.
“Tampa Bay Water shares the frustration of the citizens of the Tampa Bay region,” Moore said. “We did not get what we paid for, and that is why we are holding the designer of the reservoir, HDR Engineering, responsible for the cost to repair it.”
Moore added that Tampa Bay Water estimates that the total project cost could add up to 16 cents per 1,000 gallons of water to the agency’s wholesale water rate, which amounts to about $1.20 per household, per month.
The utility opened the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in June of 2005 to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. The reservoir covers about 1,100 acres.
The walls consist of an earthen embankment as wide as a football field at its base, averaging about 50 feet high. An impermeable membrane buried in the embankment prevents leaks.
Aside from the money issues, the current timeline of the project includes the start of construction next summer with an estimated completion date of mid-summer 2014.
 For more information about the reservoir, visit www.tampabaywater.org.