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The desalination plant on Tampa Bay is successfully converting sea water to fresh water, but it will be days before officials can predict when that water will reach homes.
Testing of the plant's mechanical systems and chemical treatment of the water must be done before the water flows into pipelines, the project manager said Monday.
The Tampa Bay Water plant, near Apollo Beach, has missed two deadlines to begin supplying water to the region. It now is producing 4.2 million gallons of fresh water daily, manager Ken Herd said.
``It's one of the most significant steps in the process,'' Herd said. ``But we don't want to mislead anyone [that] it's producing drinking water yet.''
First, workers must fine- tune the treatment of the water from the plant to balance its alkalinity and test disinfection levels. Health authorities also require tests for bacteria that will take at least a day.
At the same time, workers are testing pumps and other mechanical parts of the plant to be sure there are no problems, Herd said. ``With any system start-up, there's no way to predict what will come up.''
Once officials are satisfied with the quality of water produced, it will take more than a day's worth of production to fill a 5 million-gallon storage tank on the plant site.
Then it must produce enough water to fill 14.5 miles of pipeline to Tampa Bay Water's treatment plant near U.S. 301. That will take another 5.5 million gallons, Herd said.
He would not predict how long the remaining work might take.
``Probably toward the middle of the week we'll have a pretty good idea when it will be able to deliver water to the regional system,'' he said.
The main delay was removing sediment from the sea water the plant takes from the cooling water at the Tampa Electric Co. power plant at Big Bend. With that problem solved, workers started running water through ultrafine filters that remove salt molecules, leaving fresh water and highly concentrated salt water. Starting that reverse osmosis process is the heart of the plant's operation.
At full capacity, the plant will produce 25 million gallons of fresh water a day.
Once the plant begins to produce water Tampa Bay Water can accept, there shouldn't be a problem increasing production, Herd said. The next deadline is for the plant to produce 25 million gallons a day by the end of the month.
Plant owner Tampa Bay Water supplies wholesale water to Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties and Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.