Proposals for Tampa Bay Water
reservoir repair as high as $170 million

By Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer

In Print: Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CLEARWATER — Fixing Tampa Bay Water’s cracked reservoir
could cost between $120 million and $170 million, according to the repair
proposals from three contractors that were unveiled Monday at the utility’s
board meeting.

Expanding the 15-billion-gallon reservoir — already
Florida’s largest — by 3 billion gallons would add $40 million to the tab,
engineer Jon Kennedy told the utility board. The whole package could wind up
costing even more. Or it could cost less.

“The costs may fluctuate and come back different,”
Kennedy told the board, depending on the negotiations with the three

The big question mark, at this point, is whether it will
require raising the utility’s rates. At this point, no one knows, although last
year utility officials said it was possible.

However, in a budget workshop where rising expenses from the
desalination plant came up, several board members said they wanted to avoid any
rate hikes right now, given the region’s economic conditions.

“I can’t see how we can justify asking for one more
penny from our constituents,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy
Murman told her colleagues on the board of Tampa Bay Water, which supplies
water wholesale to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough utilities to sell to

The utility opened the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in
June 2005 to store water skimmed from the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers and
Tampa Bypass Canal. The reservoir, named for the longtime congressman from
Pinellas County, covers about 1,100 acres in Hillsborough County.

The reservoir’s walls consist of an earthen embankment as
wide as a football field at its base, averaging about 50 feet high. An
impermeable membrane buried in the embankment prevents leaks. The embankment’s
top layer, a mixture of soil and concrete to prevent erosion, began cracking in
December 2006. Some cracks were up to 400 feet long and up to 15½ inches deep.
Workers patched the cracks, but the patches didn’t last.

An investigation found water is getting trapped between the
soil-concrete lining and the membrane. As long as the reservoir is full, the
trapped water remains stable. When the utility draws down the reservoir,
though, pressure increases on trapped water in some areas, producing cracks and
soil erosion.

The cracks have not been deemed a safety hazard to the
structure, but utility officials say if they don’t fix their underlying cause,
conditions could get worse. But the reservoir’s designer, HDR Engineering, says
the problem is not that serious, and could be solved with a simple monitoring
and maintenance program that would cost less than $1 million a year.

Tampa Bay Water’s lawsuit against HDR is set for trial in
July. Utility officials are hoping any damages won in the lawsuit will defray
the cost of fixing the reservoir and eliminate the need to raise rates.

The three companies vying for the contract to fix the
reservoir are Granite Construction Co., Kiewit Infrastructure South and Skanska
USA Civil Southeast. Initially, utility officials had pegged the repair price
tag at $125 million — nearly as much as the $144 million reservoir cost to
build originally.

While the range of possible costs now exceeds that estimate,
Kennedy said those estimates also include some items that were not part of the
original request for proposals — five years of maintenance after the repair
work, for instance.

The board will hold a special workshop May 16 to hear all
the proposals, and then will vote in June on which one to negotiate a contract
with. The final vote on that contract is slated for August.

During the negotiations, the board will make a decision on
the proposed expansion of the reservoir, which will require building the walls higher.
Kennedy said the plans call for starting work on the repair — and, if approved,
the expansion — in September 2012. Officials have said the reservoir would have
to be drained for two years to complete the work.