Tampa, FL -- A major step toward restoring the Hillsborough River is giving hundreds of Tampa homeowners a sinking feeling.
The solution involves draining water from nearby sinkholes and lakes, andit's got them worried their homes and properties may be compromised.
When the original Hillsborough River Dam was builtin 1897 it solved a big problem of how Tampa would ensure itself a water supply, but it created unforeseen problems -- environmental problems.
"Everybody's afraid they're gonna have sinkholes. They're gonna run out of water," saidJim Wilson reacting to the proposed solution.
Wilson andhis neighbors say it's a frightening prospect.
On Tuesday, SWFMD approved permitsfor a plan to pump up to two million gallons of water a day out of the lakes and sinkholes that make up the Blue Sink areaaround Sulphur Springs.
"If you take all the water out of my lake, there goes my investment for a lifetime of work. You can't sell a house on a mud hole," said Wilson.
Wilson and others are deeply concerned that pumping that much water out of the natural sinkholes will dry-up their private wells. Drain their lakes and de-stabilize the ground their homes sit on.
"Wouldn't you worry about it? It's like sitting on a time bomb, isn't it?"
The Blue Sink project is one of four designed to restore water flow on the other side of the Hillsborough Dam.
The structure, built more than 100 years ago, created a reservoir for Tampa's drinking water, but it also choked off life for fish and other animals downstream.
Conservationists sued to restore the water flow and won, forcing the City to find a way to restore the water.
"We do understand their concerns,"said Tampa's Water Department director Brad Baird.
But Baird saysSWFMD and the City have tested and re-tested the potential long-term impacts of pumping the water out of the sinkholes and into the river.
Baird says they discovered it could lower the aquifer by a mere six inches, meaningresidents should see virtually no impact.
"We will not have impact to lake levels, to the wells, and it does not show that we would have increased risk of sinkhole development," he said.
But when they see how much water is already flowing from other pump projects, it's hard for Jim Wilson and his neighbors to believe it won't affect the sinkhole activity in the area.They're afraid they'll pay the price if the engineers are wrong.
Wilson sayshe understands the need to restore the river and its wildlife, but thinks the city needs to get its priorities straight.
"They've got more interest in the fresh water of the river than my livelihood or my quality of life.I think it's wrong," said Wilson.
The water department says it will take about two years to complete the planning and construction of the Blue Sink pump.
Wilson and others have vowed to keep fighting in that time, but with the 30-year permits now approved there's little to stand in the project's way.
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