Tampa Well Owners Feel Threatened by New City Reservoir

For some 20 years pumps and purifiers have drawn water from Toni Lebron’s backyard well in Tampa, Fla. And she liked it that way.

But in March the city of Tampa sent word out to hundreds of private well owners that they should consider connecting to the city’s water system.

Stuck in a 100-year drought, Tampa is creating a reservoir of its own called an Aquifer Storage Recovery System, which will pump and store water from the underground springs supplying the private wells.

Some well owners aren’t happy about being prodded to switch to city water.

"At a time of our life when we can ill afford this, the city has decided that they were going to take our well and we have nothing to say about it," said Lebron. "It hurts."

The system is made up of large underground well fields that can collect millions of gallons of water a day if necessary. It could cause the more than 100 private wells in the immediate area to run dry.

"Already my water level has dropped," Lebron said. "They can blame it on the drought, they can blame it on a lot of things, but if they weren’t siphoning from the underground water, we would not have these problems."

City officials say they’re not raiding underground reservoirs or forcing anyone to use their water.

"We’re not requiring them to hook up — it’s their option," said Marjorie Guillory, deputy director of the Tampa Water Department. "If they choose to stay connected to their well, we will still provide a set-up just in case they do lose their well."

She said the department is building backup equipment in case private wells dry up.

"In the rare event it might go dry, we’re ready and we’ll hook them up immediately," Guillory said.

Though the city isn’t charging people to connect to its system, well owners who opt to make the switch will start receiving water bills next month after years of relying on their own, free water supply. Some, like Lebron, are upset because they’ve invested a lot of money to purify their well water and make it potable.

"Our well has already conked out and we had to put in another well — it cost us $800," said Lebron, who decided to switch to the city system on a trial basis.

For owners like Albert Hemstreet, it makes sense to hook his well up to the city system — since his water smells and tastes putrid.

"They promised me that if I didn’t like it, if there was any negative part of it, I could go back to my well," he said.

Tampa officials say they expect most private well owners to stick with the system, even after they receive their first full water bill in July.

But some homeowners say that if the bills are too high, they’re going to take back their wells — whether the city likes it or not.

"I’m giving city water a try," Lebron said. "But I’m not thrilled with it. My water was beautiful."

Fox News’ Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.