- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (AP) 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 seawater-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 drinking water.
"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. Saltwater 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 seawater 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 seawater undergoes reverse osmosis, where it is pushed through a series of filters before passing through membranes, leaving 25 millions of gallons of freshwater and 19 million gallons of brine.
The pure water is treated with lime and chlorine to ensure proper alkalinity, Mr. 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 Mr. 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 problems.

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