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The drip, drip, drip of a pending water fight in Tampa Bay

Twenty years later, it is still one of the best deals ever consummated around here.

Surrounded by bickering and teetering on conflict, three counties (Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas) joined three cities (New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa) to form one utility company (Tampa Bay Water) that ended hostilities when it came to the market’s water supply.

The deal was efficient, dependable and peaceful. Until now, that is. Tampa has negotiated a side agreement with Tampa Bay Water that it says will benefit the entire region for decades to come, but that has St. Petersburg officials worried it might eventually tear the entire partnership apart.

"My fear is that we are unraveling the foundation of the (agreement) and letting Tampa essentially divorce itself from Tampa Bay Water,’’ said St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, who is the city’s representative on the nine-person board of directors for Tampa Bay Water. "I’m concerned the board is not aware of the complications that … could end the era of regional cooperation.’’