U.S. Water News Online
APOLLO BEACH, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay area's burgeoning
population of nearly 2 million people is tapping a new source for its
drinking water -- salty Tampa Bay itself.
The nation's first sea water desalination plant built to serve as
a primary source of drinking water is providing water to Tampa, St.
Petersburg, New Port Richey and surrounding cities.
The initial output is between 8 million to 12 million gallons a
day, but the plant is expected to reach full capacity by mid-April,
generating 25 million gallons a day. That's 10 percent of the area's
``We all like to wash our dishes and take long hot showers. As
long as we're going to do that we have to find other sources of
potable water,'' said Mark Luther, associate professor of marine
science at the University of South Florida.
The plant has become operational despite concerns from some area
residents that it will increase salinity in Tampa Bay and reduce
oxygen in the water.
The basic process of desalination isn't new. Salt water is pumped
through filters under high pressure, squeezing out minerals. Israel
and Kuwait have relied on desalination for decades, as have military
vessels and cruise ships.
Worldwide, 13,600 desalination plants produce 6.8 billion gallons
of water daily.
The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant, run by Tampa Bay Water,
is expected to convert sea water efficiently enough to be able to
sell it for about $2 per 1,000 gallons, far below the industry
standard. The cost of regular groundwater sources is about $1 per
1,000 gallons, said Ken Herd, project manager for Tampa Bay Water.
It cost $110 million to build the plant and the 14-mile pipe to
transport the water. The Southwest Florida Water Management District
gave Tampa Bay Water $85 million to help defray the costs. In
addition, the plant will use the 44 million gallons a day used by
Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station, further lowering costs.
The 44 million gallons of sea water undergoes reverse osmosis,
where it is pushed through a series of filters before passing through
membranes, leaving 25 million gallons of fresh water and 19 million
gallons of brine.
The pure water is treated with lime and chlorine to ensure proper
alkalinity, Herd said.
The highly salty byproduct will flow into the Big Bend power
plant's cooling water canal, where it will be diluted in the 1.4
billion gallons the canal carries each day.
It is this byproduct that has caused the most concern for some
area residents, although Luther led a study in 2000 that found the
briny waste would not cause any long-term increases in salinity.
Apollo Beach residents formed Save Our Bays, Air and Canals and
fought to have the permits to the plant denied, and eventually sued
the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to contest the
state permit for the plant. It lost that bid, but group attorney Ralf
Brookes said they will monitor the area for any environmental
Other environmental groups, including the Audubon Society and
Sierra Club, have said they have not seen any data that shows the
fears are founded, and are waiting to see the results of a $1 million
monitoring program. Herd said it's too early to see any changes in
the bay, since the initial output just began in mid-March.
Independent studies showed that the plant alone would have little
affect on the salinity of the water ``because it's just such a drop
in the bucket when you compare it to the total quantity of water in
the bay,'' said Lynn McGarvey, with the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group.
However, McGarvey did say she would become concerned about
salinity if more desalination plants went up in the area.
The state permit requires that the plant conduct several types of
monitoring on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis. Also, state
officials will do inspections at least once a year. The plant's
permit is good for five years, but can be revoked earlier.
Key West has had a desalination plant for years, and one was built
in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1992. Both are much smaller, and are
used only for emergency supplies.
In December, the prime minister of Singapore came to study the
plant on the edge of Tampa Bay. Communities from Mexico, Iceland,
Texas, California and Florida's east coast also have shown interest.
``People are starting to really understand the value of water and
the importance of having a drought-proof supply that you can rely on
year round under any weather condition to deliver drinking water for
their area,'' Herd said. ``That problem is experienced around the
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.