TAMPA — Drained for more than two years because of an expansive renovation project, the 15.5 billion gallon C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir brims with water now, ready to slake the thirsts of more than 2 million customers during the approaching dry months.
“From a water-supply perspective, we’re in the best case scenario right now coming into the dry season,” said Brandon Moore, spokesman for Tampa Bay Water, the area’s main water supplier. The hottest, most arid part of the dry season typically lasts from April through June.
The massive earthen man-made lake — two miles long by one mile wide — in eastern Hillsborough County was filled months ahead of schedule because of an unusually rainy winter that raised the levels of nearby rivers and fed the reservoir, Moore said. Tampa Bay Water owns and operates the reservoir and sells water to suppliers like the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg and Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
“By completing the renovation project ahead of schedule, and with help from Mother Nature, Tampa Bay Water stands ready to deliver,” said Matt Jordan, Tampa Bay Water’s general manager.
In November, the agency got permits from the Department of Environmental Protection to fill the reservoir to its capacity of about 136.5 feet above sea level, Moore said. The water level now stands at slightly over 136 feet.
Tampa Bay Water had hoped to fill the reservoir by the end of the approaching summer, when the region typically receives most of its rain. Instead, a wet winter has kept the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers flowing enough to fill the reservoir to its capacity in just four months after construction crews vacated the newly renovated and freshly lined bowl.
Surface water from the rivers is pumped into the reservoir and that stored water is used during the dry months. The idea is to take advantage of Florida’s seasonal rainfall, making the regional water supply system more reliable when the rains stop and the river levels drop.
The reservoir reservoir has been a source of drinking water since 2005 but was drained more than two years ago after it developed abnormal cracking in the erosion control layer soon after its first drawdown in 2006.
Tampa Bay Water decided to drain the facility so the earthen berms could be repaired, a $129 million renovation project that required more than 105,000 tons of cement and five miles of white tarp that serves as the liner. Tampa Bay Water is footing the bill after losing a lawsuit it filed against the engineering company that designed and built the reservoir nine years ago.
Besides the reservoir, Tampa Bay Water pumps water runs a desalination plant and groundwater wellfields around the region.
Tampa Bay Water has permits to withdraw an annual average of 90 million gallons per day from its 11 wellfields and is currently operating below its permitted limits.
According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, aquifer levels appear to be healthy. Data gathered last week showed the aquifer beneath the Tampa region was 2.5 feet higher than at this time last year. The region also recorded about 7 inches of rain in January and February, more than a half-inch over normal for the first two months of the year.
In 2014, just over 56 inches of rain fell, nearly 4 inches above normal, and 8 inches more than 2013.
The district’s data taken in February also shows that the Hillsborough River flow was well above normal.
Tampa Bay Water stands to save money now that the reservoir is operating. While the reservoir was off line, the sea water desalination plant had been producing drinking water from salt water, which is an expensive operation.
Now that the reservoir is on line, Moore said, the desalination plant will be scaled back to pump out about 16 million gallons a day until June, about 10 percent of its capacity.