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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Sandscript

Water woes less worrisome, plus mooring advice

A Merry Christmas to all. Let’s hope that the holiday brought everything you hoped for under the tree for you and yours, and the upcoming New Year festivities are pleasant and uneventful, at least when compared to the bad news on Anna Maria Island near the end of 2007.

At least it was a Merry Christmas for Tampa Bay Water. Finally.

 

Water, water everywhere

Tampa Bay Water in Hillsborough County has received global attention in the past few years. The utility has been attempting to build the largest desalination treatment plant in the United States, and perhaps the world, for many years.

The plant has had a slew of problems, but last week finally got up to its projected capacity of withdrawing saltwater from Tampa Bay, pumping it through the plant, then producing 25 million gallons of freshwater daily for customers in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

It was a huge undertaking, and withstood not only huge criticism, but huge setbacks.

Arguably the biggest problem came from one of the smallest critters in the bay.

For a time, Asian green mussels, an exotic species of shellfish that apparently invaded Tampa Bay and waterways elsewhere in the state, clogged the inflow pipes of the plant near Apollo Beach.

The mussels are generally believed to have been introduced into our area through ballast pump-outs from ships that came from East Asia. The little bright-green shellfish flourished in the area and took up residence in the pipes that withdraw water from the bay into the desal plant.

OK, so you’ve got some shellfish in the pipes, you say. So what? Let’s have dinner!

Unfortunately, the pretty little shellfish spewed out some kind of fiber that clogged the membranes of the plant’s filtration system.

Tampa Bay Water utilizes a series of really fine fibers that are supposed to block out everything, including salt, before it gets sent through the plant and eventually to a customer’s faucet.

Asian green mussels, with its fibers, clogged the membranes before the filters’ expected lifespan was reached. A refit was ordered. Delays ensued.

Then there was that pesky problem of the companies that had agreed to build the plant declaring bankruptcy. That financial “obstacle” was followed by another, then another, three in total. The final contractor then couldn’t meet the required test runs for a few years.

But last month the bugs got worked out of the system - or the shellfish, perhaps - and the plant met its goal of providing drinking water to the region from the saltwater from the Gulf.

Outflow, by the way, is called “brackish” and it has been deemed to not be harmful to the environment. Almost all tout the process.

At $158 million, it wasn’t a cheap process to build the country’s largest desal plant. It also took four years to finish.

As one Tampa Bay Water board member told the St. Petersburg Times, “When you’re doing a project of that size and in a way that’s never been done before, you’re going to have problems.”

 

‘So what?’ you ask

The Tampa Bay Water desal plant isn’t a big deal for Manatee County, which is lush with water despite a statewide drought. However, Venice officials in Sarasota County are allegedly very interested in what’s been going on up to the north.

Venice is at the hind end of the water supply that we enjoy. Saltwater intrusion is the major problem down there, and the problem appears to be getting worse.

Think of Florida’s underground area as a big sponge. Yes, it’s limestone and aquifers and all that other water stuff, but basically it’s a sponge that is being squeezed at one end by drinking water withdrawls. Venice is at the dry end of the drinking-water sponge. North Port, too, and it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the state.

As you’ve probably heard before, potable - drinking - water is the single greatest limiting factor to growth in Florida. No water, no developments, no new people, no added tax base for government services.

Sure, there have been long-standing plans in place and withdrawals from the Peace River to the south, but a nifty, working desal plant would sure ease a lot of problems for a lot of people.

 

Mooring field memo

Memo to: Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale

From: Sandscript

Re: Bradenton Beach mooring field

Please accept this note as an advisory that the city of Sarasota has passed on first reading an ordinance that establishes a mooring field to the south of Marina Jack restaurant on the bayfront in Sarasota Bay.

It’s taken at least 17 years for Sarasota to reach this point. Bradenton Beach is pegged at less than a decade.

Sarasota’s ordinance, which may be approved in January by the city commission, will create something like 100-plus places for boats to moor on about 114 acres. The cost for the Sarasota mooring field is still uncertain, but a charge of $15-per-day has been discussed.

Commissioners also discussed the concept of charging options including fees based on the number of people on the boat, size of the boat, length of stay. All that will probably be decided in January.

Of course, Bradenton Beach would have a much smaller field due to its smaller size. Similar concerns are evident in both fields, though, in the form of the need of rest room and shower facilities - still to be built in Sarasota, already in place in Bradenton Beach at the pier - as well as harbor master services - ditto above - and a place to park dinghy’s, which both still need to be resolved.

What is of interest is the whole concept of the city/private concept in Sarasota. Marina Jack Mooring LLC is apparently going to run what the state calls the “managed anchorage mooring field” at the bayfront, with the city taking charge of the field itself. However, as one Sarasota commissioner put it, he wants a “firewall” between the private entity and the public part of the project regarding who gets what money, when, and from whom. The field is a city operation. The operation of the mooring field is being farmed out to Marina Jack.

Sarasota’s mooring field ordinance apparently mimics one in Fort Myers, which is apparently based on the first-such waterborne creation in Vero Beach.

I’ve been to Vero Beach’s mooring field. It’s beautiful - a nice little clubhouse for cruising boaters, showers, laundry facilities, a little snack bar and all the other amenities of “home away from home.”

Bradenton Beach has created something very, very similar to Vero, but better, what with the trolley only a couple of blocks away and all of the Island and beyond to enjoy.

Bradenton Beach also has the added potential for a waterborne taxi, if funding can ever get wrestled away from federal or state coffers.

Please keep the Sarasota ordinance in mind during the anticipated 2008 discussion on the Bradenton Beach Managed Anchorage Mooring Field.”

And remember that the cost of the huge mooring field in Sarasota is estimated at $700,000.

Sincerely, Sandscript

 

Sandscript factoid

According to my always-questionable math, a desal plant the size of Tampa Bay Water can service 250,000 customers. Sarasota County’s population is arguable pegged at 370,000 full-time residents, with an untold number of extra workers and visitors tapping into the system.

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