Tampa Bay desalination plant in trouble again

Just at the time it is really needed, the Tampa Bay seawater desalination plant has hit trouble again. For some months now, the plant has been operating well below capacity – at a time when the rainfall in that part of Florida is at record low levels.

Tampa Bay Water board minutes show that the 25 MGD (95,000 m³/d) capacity plant only produced an average of 21.6 MGD (81,600 m³/d) in October 2008, and only 19.4 MGD (73,400 m³/d) in both November and December. In January 2009, this sank to 15.9 MGD (60,000 m³/d).

Chuck Carden, Tampa Bay Water’s director of operations and facilities explained to D&WR on 17 March 2009 that much of this was due to scheduled mechanical and electrical maintenance. A blown transformer on one of the reverse-osmosis trains is a key factor, he said. “We are currently awaiting a new transformer for that RO train. Once delivered and installed, we expect to be back at full production (25 MGD) in May.”

However, right now, the plant is operating at approximately 16 MGD (60,000 m³/d), less than two-thirds capacity.

Carden says, “We expect to increase production to about 19 MGD by the end of this week. We had to shut down the plant late Friday because a leak was detected in our raw water intake line. The plant was shut down, the leak repaired and the plant resumed production on Saturday afternoon.”

Meanwhile the authority is drawing down precious groundwater as it had emptied a major surface-water reservoir last year to inspect cracks in its wall. The Tampa Bay plant was finally fully opened just over a year ago after almost a decade of contractual and technological turmoil following the award of the original contract in July 1999.