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June 26, 2007

Expansion will protect natural resources from rapid growth

The Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board approved a rule amendment on Tuesday that will expand the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area (NTBWUCA) into the portions of Pasco and northeastern Hillsborough counties not currently in the WUCA to address increasing water use due to rapid growth and development in the area.

In 1989, the Governing Board declared portions of northern Hillsborough and southwestern Pasco counties and all of Pinellas County a WUCA to address groundwater withdrawals that had resulted in lowered lake levels, destruction or deterioration of wetlands, reduced streamflow and saltwater intrusion. The regulations adopted as part of the NTBWUCA have resulted in reduced water demands and decreased environmental impacts in the area.

Current Northern Tampa Bay WUCA requirements for water use permit holders include:
*Enhanced public supply water conservation measures, such as water conserving rate structures.
*Enhanced irrigation efficiency requirements for water use permit holders like golf courses and agriculture
*A lowered threshold of 100,000 gallons per day for the metering and reporting of withdrawals.
*Reclaimed water requirements.

The Governing Board charged District staff in January with initiating a public process to receive input on several strategies aimed at protecting the natural resources in the northern portion of the District due to rapid growth and development. One of those strategies was expanding of the NTBWUCA into northeastern Hillsborough and the remainder of Pasco counties.

As part of the initial public process, staff received input from the Withlacoochee River, Coastal Rivers and Hillsborough River Basin Boards, and met with the Districtís advisory committees, representing the Green Industry, Agricultural, Environmental, Industrial and Public Supply. In addition, two public workshops were held to solicit input from stakeholders in the area, including local governments, the business community, environmental organizations, major water users and others. A presentation also was given to the Pasco County Commission, which later sent the District a letter supporting the expansion.

The Governing Board voted in April to begin the rulemaking process to expand the NTBWUCA based on the feedback staff received during the public process. The Board also determined that expanding the NTBWUCA is necessary to address cumulative water withdrawals, which are causing or may cause adverse impacts to the water and related land resources or the public interest. The expansion area is experiencing rapid growth and the NTBWUCA rules will enhance its resource protection.

The rule amendment is expected to become effective by Sept. 1, 2007. The NTBWUCA requirements will apply to all new water use permits in the expansion area beginning September 1. Existing permittees in the expansion area will have until July 1, 2008 to comply with the new requirements.

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