Pinellas County Commission have rejected Pasco County’s request to buy the Cross Bar Ranch property Pinellas has owned for decades in north-central Pasco. Pasco officials want to turn the 12,400 acres into a preserve. Pasco County commissioners might take some comfort in one of the reasons their Pinellas counterparts gave in rejecting the proposed deal: Land prices in Pasco are still on the rise, so now might not be a good time to sell.
On the other hand, no one should be happy about another reason Pinellas gave for saying no: It may one day need the wells on the Cross Bar Ranch property to meet its drinking water requirements. “This is our lifeline, our drinking water,” said Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche. “It’s incumbent upon us to preserve that option for future generations.”
Roche’s sentiment is an unfortunate echo from the “water wars,” which for years pitted water-poor Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg against its water-rich neighbors, Hillsborough and Pasco counties and the cities of New Port Richey and Tampa. For years, the wells at Cross Bar Ranch have been under the control of Tampa Bay Water. The three counties and three cities all belong to the regional wholesale utility and through it they are supposed to share the area’s potable water supply.
We can’t imagine the water-supply nightmare that would require Pinellas County to reclaim control over the Cross Bar wells and would convince regulators to reverse course and authorize increased pumping from those wells, risking renewed environmental damage. The wells aren’t a good reason for Pinellas not to sell Cross Bar.