Tampa mayor Pam Iorio is letting the Hillsborough River dry up because she doesn’t want to spend $12 per month. Worse, she won’t give her opposition a chance to speak.
Tampa largely relies on the Hillsborough River for water. It’s fed via a dam that controls flow from the Hillsborough River reservoir, which can hold up to 1.6 billion gallons of water. Seven years ago, the amount of water that could flow into the lower Hillsborough out of the dam was set at 10 cubic feet per second, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Environmental groups such as Friends of the River have been trying to raise that number, arguing it isn’t high enough to “support snook, baby manatees and other wildlife.”
When there isn’t enough rain, Tampa has to buy its water from Tampa Bay Water, a regional water utility. Tampa Bay Water has a lot more water than the City of Tampa – its C.W. Bill Young reservoir alone holds 15 billion gallons.
It’s an expensive relationship. According to the Tampa Tribune, Tampa has already been buying water at the rate of 20 million gallons per day, which costs the city $66,000 daily. That number is likely to increase to 50 million gallons ($165,000) on days when Tampa allows lawn watering.Iorio doesn’t want the City Council to discuss the issue, however.
Tampa’s government may go to court to avoid spending extra money to feed the Hillsborough during droughts, according to city attorney David Smith. According to Smith, members of the City Council who speak contrary to the city’s interests may have to testify against the city.
Many City Council members and environmental groups expressed frustration at Smith’s words. After all, Tampa residents pay an average of $12 per month for water. According to the Times, that’s half as much as Pinellas County residents and only a third as much as many Hillsborough residents. Rich Brown, who serves on the mayor’s Environmental Roundtable, wants to make Tampa residents pay their fair share by bringing their water cost up to the regional average, which would be about a 100 percent increase.
Councils are, by definition, groups of people assembled to deliberate and give advice. The mayor should not be silencing the City Council’s reasonable solutions – in effect, emasculating its purpose – no matter how politically dangerous the ideas are.
Iorio seems to have chosen autocratic rule – the worst choice available – as her “solution.” However, it doesn’t solve anything: It doesn’t make Tampa residents pay their fair share for water, and it doesn’t help the Hillsborough River. Worst of all, it actively hurts democracy by unfairly silencing those City Council members who dare to disagree.