The town has one 500,000-gallon and one 300,000-gallon ground storage reservoirs that hold treated water to meet peak demands and emergency situations.

BELLEAIR — The town of Belleair is under a time crunch as Pinellas County officials work to come up with a bid for the purchase and operation of the town’s faltering water supply.

Town Manager JP Murphy said the Pinellas County bid is the last piece of information the town commission needs before deciding whether to use Pinellas County water, build a reverse osmosis facility or go with a private contractor to provide the town with water.

“I’m not trying to throw the county under the bus, but we’re racing against the clock,” said Murphy. “It’s been incredibly frustrating. We started having this conversation with the county last year, and the private sector gave us a bid in three days. I had hoped we could at least get a planning number from the county sooner.”

Murphy said the commission cannot decide on the future of Belleair’s water supply without getting the bid from Pinellas County. He estimated that the county would come back with its bid in 45 to 60 days.

“We’re trying to make this decision sooner than later,” said Mayor Mike Wilkinson. “I just want what’s best for the town economically and in terms of water quality. We’re just waiting for the county to come back with their numbers.”

An engineering firm told the town that a decision had to be made by the first quarter of 2021, “and obviously we’ve missed that deadline,” Murphy said. But even with the town already having missed that timeframe, the county has been slow to come up with its final figures.

“I don’ think they’re dragging their feet, they’re just putting together as much intelligence as they can in making their decision. At the end of the day, they just have to balance all of their costs to avoid risk in the transaction. I just wish it would take less time.”

The county’s last bid was for the town to pay $2 million, which town officials found unacceptable. A conversion of the town’s water plant to reverse osmosis would cost $8 million to $12 million, and a private sector bid would pay the town $3 million.

According to the town website, Belleair currently meets its water demands by water drawn from the Upper Floridan Aquifer. Its water supply has always come from seven wells located within the town. Water treatment consists of aeration, filtration, sequestration, fluoridation and chloramine disinfection. The town does maintain an emergency connection with Pinellas County.

But increases in chlorides and dissolved matter make the system inadequate past 2023. The town faces a decision over to go with a private contractor, buy from Pinellas County or modernize its existing system through the use of reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis uses a series of small, permeable membranes to remove ions, unwanted molecules and larger particles from drinking water.

A modernization of the current plant would take about 30 months to complete. The plant was built in 1956.

Murphy said the town’s water supply is still safe.

“The water quality is drinkable, but it’s harder,” Murphy said, adding that saltwater intrusion is a growing part of the water problem the town is facing. “The key problem is that our plant was not designed to remove salts from the system.”