Commissioner Ed Turanchik's Economy Busting Scheme For Tampa Bay

" Scare the hell out of the American people."
Quote by: Senator Arthur Vandenburg
Telling President Truman what the he needed to do in order to tax the American people to pay for the weapons and covert activities  of the US National Security State that was being planned to destroy the Russian Communist State. 

Political Commentary by: Owen S. Whitman
(Update: 8.2.98)
(Update: 9.10.00)

(Links Occasionally Updated)

EDITORS NOTE: Since the original posting of this commentary more than two-years ago, July 19, 1998, Stone and Webster, the Tampa Bay desal plant development "Team Leader" and supposed  possessor of a technological "Rosetta Stone" to magically convert historically cost prohibitive, Perrier-priced desal water into something more affordable, has declared bankruptcy.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Stone and Webster's financial woes stemmed from a “consistent inability to accurately project costs on major projects”

Oil, the bellwether indicator of energy cost in general (as in electricity etc.) has skyrocketed from $23.00 per barrel in '98 to around $34 per barrel - a 41% increase and the highest energy price in 10 years. This is a matter of major concern as seawater desal plants are voracious consumers of electricity. It is logical to assume that there is some mechanism extant in the agreements between the would-be developers of a Tampa Bay desal plant, and the Tampa Bay Water Authority, which would allow for increases in the cost of desal water in the face of such recent (and unprecedented) energy cost run-ups. 

Fueled by an estimated $30-$60 billions of dollars in anticipated future direct U.S. support (i.e. bribes) for accepting a regional peace deal, the Israelis now seem poised to bite the desal bullet and begin development of a seawater plant at Ashkelon on the Mediterranean. The similarly arid and Israel-like coastal region of Texas is now also said to be considering a desal facility;  driven in large part, ironically, by the chimerical and wholly unrealized "breakthrough" desal cost projections for a now bankrupt Stone & Webster’s non-existent Tampa Bay facility.  



Note: The author appreciates that both Gulf and Tampa bay locations are being considered as sites for the subject regional desalination facility. The term Tampa Bay as used herein is applied generically in an inclusive, regional context and refers to all potential area desalination sites (bay or gulf front) presently under consideration.


In 1996, Michael Molligan, then water district spokesman for Southwest Florida Water Management District's (SWFWMD) Manatee county region was quoted in the Bradenton Herald,`` Once saltwater intrusion has occurred, we can never recover the water resource except through desalination. Desalination, the process of removing salt from salt water to make drinking water, costs two to three times more than the cost to process drinking water from fresh water surface or groundwater sources." Fair enough so far, with one exception; some experienced, world-class number crunchers say that seawater desalination costs are higher - much higher! 

According to 1996 World Bank figures (a global lender and credit guarantor to nations with major infrastructure needs) the actual cost of seawater desalination ranges from $1.60 to $2.70 (U.S.) per cubic meter (219.973 U.S. Gallons) -- given existing (1996) technology and energy sources (oil around $23 per barrel at '96 year-end). Although manufacturers of desalination equipment claim lower costs, World Bank experts maintain that manufacturers' estimates are consistently incomplete and do not consider all the "hidden costs." 

Proponents of desalination argue that the present cost of potable desalinated water is likely to decline due to advances in technology. World Bank experts dismiss these assertions as being "unlikely "because the substantial energy costs to desalinate are subject to rise in the next two decades. It is also unlikely, they contend, that technology advances can be economically adapted to already existing desalination facilities. 

 The table below compares the 1996 World Bank's desalination cost projection ranges with Hillsborough county's present, cheap and conventionally produced (aquifer & groundwater) potable water cost. 


Desalination Cost Per Cubic Meter
(219.973 U.S. Gallons)
World Bank Study '96

Desalination Cost Per Gallon
World Bank Study '96

Desalination Cost Per 1000 Gallons
World Bank Study '96

Approximate Present Hillsborough County Cost Per 1000 Gallons










In October of 1996, after exhaustive study, the water starved and notoriously frugal nation of Israel concluded that a mammoth, state-of-the-art plant to supply about 250 mcm/yr of desalinated seawater (66,050,198,150 gallons) would require around a $1 billion investment -- about .0151 cents per gallon. In addition, Israeli experts identified additional costs consisting of: 

  • Providing large chunks of sea shore for the plant, 
  • A permanent dependence on "imported" energy and 
  • Vast amounts of clean seawater for dumping the brine by-products of the desalination process. 

In consideration of the "unacceptable economic consequences,” spokesmen for Mekorot, Israel's national water company, ruled that all large scale desalination projects be delayed and considered only as a "last resort." 


Historically, desalinated seawater has been so costly that there have been only three "true" commercial seawater desalination operations in the United States; and only one, the relatively insignificant Catalina Island, Calif. plant, remains in limited use. 

  • Santa Barbara, Calif. Panicking in the face of a severe and persistent regional drought, area government officials plunged into uncharted waters with the construction of a 6.7mgd desal plant. Immediately upon completion, however, the rains came. And, due to the exorbitant cost of saltwater desalination, the plant never reached full commercial production and has been idle ever since.
  • Catalina Island, Calif. A 132kgd plant is in limited use. 
  • Key West, Florida It eventually proved cheaper to pipe water all the way down the Florida Keys than to maintain the horrendously expensive and environmentally disastrous 3mgd plant that operated there during the 60s and 70s.

The desalination plant(s) being pushed for the Tampa bay region, featuring the typical vastly divergent and virtually meaningless cost estimates characteristic of all local government's supposedly  "economic" undertakings, will cost (so we are now told) between $70,000,000 and $100,000,000 and produce around 20,000,000 gallons per day of desalinated water.  It is, however, unclear what costs are included in the anticipated plant price. Assuming an extremely aggressive operating cycle of 365 days per year, annual water production could reach 7,300,000,000 gallons (7.3 billion gallons). In any event, it would be the largest and most expensive desalination plant in America, and it is this fact that raises certain economic questions. 

By a factor of almost 10-times, the 1996 Israeli studies referenced earlier were based on a significantly larger desalination production facility. Consequently, the massive Israeli plant could reasonably be expected to enjoy efficiencies-of-scale, i.e. lower construction and operating costs than Tampa Bay. 

Conservatively applying the estimated cost of constructing the larger Israeli facility, at its reduced construction costs of scale (1.51 cents per gallon) to the 7.3 billion-gal/year Tampa Bay facility produces an "inferred" Tampa Bay facilities construction cost of  $109,500,000. This number, albeit conservatively derived, is still  $9,500,000 greater than the current $100,000,000 Tampa Bay plant  "upset" price represented to the community by desalination proponents. Also, higher American wages, stringent safety concerns, largely undefined environmental impact & mitigation issues and most of the additional cost factors considered by the Israelis, are certain to bloat the  final cost of the Tampa Bay facility - i.e. providing large chunks of sea shore for the plant, a permanent dependence on "imported" energy and vast amounts of clean seawater required for dumping the brine by-products of the desalination process. 

Perhaps a revealing insight and understanding of the consistent historic imprecision of government’s attempt to predict the costs and revenues of large, politically motivated infrastructure projects can be gained from this link detailing horrendous cost overruns and historic operating failure of other large-scale government projects; Rail Mass Transit in particular -- another of government's "mythic" obsessions threatening the "wealth" of Tampa bay area and Florida residents. 

From California Coastal Commission (CCC) data, discussed in further detail below, we gain insight into a range of possible annual production (operating ) costs for the proposed Tampa Bay facility. According to the CCC, excluding capital costs, most seawater desalination plants in California would produce potable water in the range of $1,000 to $2,200 per acre-foot (1992 cost basis) and consume 2,500 to 29,500 kilowatt hours per acre-foot (kWh/AF) of electricity. For the purpose of analysis, the CCC defines one acre-foot  (AF) as being approximately 326,000 gallons. One acre-foot represents the CCC's estimate of the annual water requirements for "two or three California households."  Applying this formula to the Tampa Bay facility's annual production of 7.3 billion gallons yields 22,393 annual AF (Acre-Feet). Thus: 



Annual Production Cost Per acre-foot
CCC Study

Total Annual Acre-Feet Produced
Tampa Bay Facility

Total Annual Operating Production Cost
Tampa Bay Facility

Production Costs Per 1000 gallons
Tampa Bay Facility

Approximate Present Hillsborough County Cost Per 1000 Gallons











Considering the perfect, unbroken history of virtually meaningless feasibility studies, and the construction cost overruns typical of all local governments' supposedly "economic” undertakings, the annual amortization of capital (facilities) debt, land acquisition costs, distribution infrastructure enhancements (new pipes and right-of-way leases/purchases, roads, connectors, pumping stations, lawsuits from customers whose water lines are damaged by increased water salinity  etc.) an upward trend in energy prices and as yet unknown  environmental mitigation costs etc., the World Bank's cost estimates of $7.27 and $12.27 per 1000 gallons are viewed in perspective. 


Desalination is a big time, energy intense (electricity/fossil fuel) undertaking. This fact affords insight into why seawater desalination for the Tampa Bay area is being pushed by the powerful and expensive lobbyists and senior officials of the area's electric monopolies -- Tampa Electric Company and Florida Progress. Energy, lots of electric energy, that's the ticket! An indication of just how much energy can be gained from the operating experiences of California State. 


Among other things, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) is responsible for determining the impact of desalination operations on their coastline. They have conducted  extensive desal research complete with its own specialized and somewhat arcane operating terminology. As described earlier, in "CCC speak, " one acre-foot (AF) equals approximately 326,000 gallons; the amount, according to the CCC, required to satisfy the annual water consumption requirements of  "two or three California households."  Other units of capacity are : 

  • Acre-Feet per year (AF/yr), 
  • Gallons per day (gpd) or
  • Million gallons per day (MGD). 

According to the CCC, most seawater desalination plants in California produce potable water in a range of costs from $1,000 to $2,200 per acre-foot (1992 cost basis) and consume 2,500 to 29,500 kilowatt hours of electric power per acre-foot (kWh/AF). Extrapolating from the CCC findings, the table below details a possible range of annual electricity consumption costs for the proposed Tampa Bay salt water desalination plant, assuming a modestly subsidized(?), electricity  rate of six cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). 

The apparent variance in electric power consumption evinced in the chart below is a function of the salinity of the water source being processed. The higher the salinity, ocean salt water vs. brackish water say, the greater the electric power consumption for desalination. The Tampa bay plant will be processing bay seawater-- water that is only slightly less saline than open Gulf seawater. Thus, it is logical to conclude that the Tampa desal plant will consume electric power -- Kilowatt Hours -- at the upper end of desal processing cost projections and will thus be a more costly "seawater" desalination process. And, as the Israeli and World Bank studies conclude, when energy prices inevitably increase (i.e. the price of oil, natural gas or coal) desalination process costs that are wholly dependent upon electric power production will escalate dramatically. For instance, the oil price per barrel was in the $16-$20 U.S. dollars range during the time of the 1992 CCC electricity consumption cost projections below. 


Kilowatt Hours Consumed Per Water acre-foot Produced
CCC Study

Total Annual Water Acre-Feet Produced
Tampa Bay Facility at 20mgd production rate

Total Annual Kilowatt Hours Consumed
Tampa Bay Facility

Total Annual Electricity Charge 
(.06 per kWh est.) 1



55,982,500 kWh




660,564,000 kWh


It is obvious that whichever of the two Tampa bay power monopolies win, the Tampa Bay area's desalination power "sucker" is a slam-dunk to consume (buy) lots of electricity for decades. Thus the mystery of why Florida Progress and TECO are the saltwater desalination project's major champions is solved. And if TECO should win, they will perhaps reap an additional windfall by selling or leasing a virtually worthless industrial property for the desalination plant site, and perhaps sell water pipeline right-of-way access on existing TECO power line easements. What with outages and rolling brown-outs an increasingly common local phenomenon during summer and winter high electricity demand periods, you can be certain that soon after the opening of the Tampa Bay desal power sucker, captive area electricity consumers will hear the chant of the power shortage mantra: "there is an immediate need to build new production capacity, funded, of course, by increased consumer electric rates. "


And, local governments won't object; posture yes, object never. Why should they? After all, they've never complained about power monopolists’ rates before. The nasty little secret is that government, in exchange for having created the anachronistic, regional power monopolies in the first place, quietly receive their monthly monopoly "protection payoff" via ever increasing clandestine taxes -- monopoly franchise fees and taxes assessed on the gross amount of the area's captive energy consumers' electric bills! Under this paradigm, the more consumers pay for electricity, the more money flows into government coffers.

Forget for the moment the obvious reasons for the irresistible attraction of Politicals to power monopolists -- the implied understandings and unspoken promises of generous political campaign contributions and support-- the larger your electric bill, the more revenue government receives, avoiding the unpleasant task of having to return to the voters for permission -- limitless, unaccountable increases! Too, the power monopolies historically have functioned as virtual governmental "safe houses" providing cushy executive havens (and perks) for the politically favoured while lavishing funding and political support on government friends, and providing seed money and financing for government's politically favoured "pet" projects; undertakings that taxpayers given the opportunity would most likely reject. After all, why would any politician upset the precedent established through such a long-standing relationship; historically, a smooth and efficiently running engine of political plunder that otherwise distracted citizens barely understand? 


A Link Directory To The 
Prime Movers Behind The 
Great Tampa Bay De$alination Scheme

You Guessed It... Choo-Choo! Eddie (Show me the big deal - any big deal & Gotta have a train for the Tampa Olympics) -- Turanchik, with the assistance of SWFWMD political lap-dog, state senator Ginny Brown-Waite, was one of the desalination project's chief political sponsors. 

As government's protected power monopolists, and de-facto tax collectors, these folks are seasoned hands at political manipulation and exploitation of captive Tampa Bay electric power customers. Cloning TECO's Big Bend power station to the independent (?) desalination project is an act of sheer Machiavellian genius. Such a move gives TECO enhanced revenues, unprecedented political leverage and most importantly -- the opportunity to slow or avoid substantive renovation (or demolition) of an outmoded 30-year-old, coal fired power plant. As monopolists who don't have to compete or advertise for customers, it is interesting to note how TECO spends its customers' money in a calculated and self-serving strategic program to curry political favor (and reward its friends?).




These guys appear to have been the financial partners behind the original, now bankrupt, plant developer, Stone & Webster -- the highly touted contractors with the technological breakthrough, the Rosetta Stone for manufacturing "cheap" desal water. Stone & Webster's bankruptcy has clouded Poseidon’s present role somewhat.  Poseidon's press releases and corporate materials describe them as financing and partnership structuring specialists. Meanwhile local "politicals" and recent local news reports imply that they are the new developer? Who knows -- does it matter?

Under the guidance of Edwin Turanchik, the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority begat mega- government water monopolist, Tampa Bay Water. With headquarters in Pinellas county, TBW holds the water dependent Tampa Bay economy tightly in its grasp, and recently have quietly purchased Hillsborough/Tampa's major groundwater supplies. The TBW are water Socialists, busily regionalizing, rationizing,  "socializing," and increasing the cost of water. TBW are also attempting to reinvent your life with an Orwellian sounding concept called "Governance”?

These folks, enthroned in their insular and self-absorbed headquarters, 55 miles north of Tampa in the bucolic hills of Brooksville, are the "He-Coons" of dangerous, non elected, super-bureaucrats.  Via relentless political manipulation and heavy-handed regulation, they have come to control Hillsborough county's primary cheap groundwater supplies - the Hillsborough River in particular.  By effectively overtaxing regional citizens, they have developed a massive financial slush fund that confers enormous political power and indulges a disastrous penchant for wobbly-headed projects – seawater desal most prominently. Few (if any) of SWFWMD's "Royal Court” live in Hillsborough county. These folks represent Freedom's worst nightmare - an arrogant, absentee, fear mongering bureaucracy with the power to levy taxes and artificially create regional water scarcity through arbitrary, politically motivated regulation. Their rapacious bureaucracy building strategy has been to create the perception of constant "crisis" which they relentlessly use as a lever to increase their political power and authority. Their nine-year (or so) crusade for seawater desalination will soon force Tampa Bay residents to clean, cook, bathe and flush their toilets with economy busting Perrier-priced desal tap water. Desal water will permanently damage the Tampa Bay region by excluding it from consideration by all major, fresh-water consuming manufacturing enterprises - high-tech and high-wage computer chip producers for instance.







An article appearing in the Sunday, August 2, 1998 St. Petersburg Times reported that the two desal plant proposals adjacent to Florida Power's Anclote plant would pay 3.73 cents per kilowatt hour. The two plant proposals next to TECO's plant would pay 3.61 cents. To our knowledge, this represents the first public acknowledgment of the politically motivated and highly subsidized  electric fee structure being offered these energy intensive facilities. For example, the same Times article quotes Jim Taylor of the Environmental Systems Engineering Institute at the University of Central Florida in Orlando: "The typical rate [electric] for Florida is 7 to 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, so if they get a rate down around 3.5 cents, that's a big savings."