"Squirrel-proof" water plant for Tampa and TECO - WFLA News Channel 8

"Squirrel-proof" water plant for Tampa and TECO

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - Crews working for Tampa Electric have been busy at the Tippin Water Treatment Facility in Tampa for the last few weeks.

They're burying power lines and doing a number of other infrastructure upgrades. It's all part of a plan to "squirrel-proof" the electrical system.

Back in February, a squirrel is believed to have chewed through a power line at the plant. That started a small fire, and a chain reaction of events led to a power failure, that then resulted in a boil water notice for the city that last for a few days.

Related Content: Squirrel causes power outage

"It was a combination of events and the squirrel was likely the first domino to fall," said TECO spokesperson, Cherie Jacobs.

The city and TECO both hired an electrical expert to assess the system and figure out what needed to be fixed. Work on the project started in September. TECO is investing $1.2 million in upgrades. The city is pitching in an additional $500,000.

"What it means is that it will be more reliable, in terms of our treatment and transmission of our potable water," said city water department director, Brad Baird.

In addition to burying power lines, animal protection is being added to power lines, and there are upgrades at two substations that feed power to the water plant. The animal protection will keep squirrels and other rodents from chewing on the lines.

"It had never happened before and Tampa Electric and the city of Tampa are working together to invest in improvements to make sure this doesn't happen again," Jacobs said.

There are other benefits to burying the power lines. Those lines will now be able to withstand hurricane force winds.

And while this particular situation, where the power failure caused a boil water notice, is unusual, Jacobs said rodents are responsible for 20% of power outages.

"They like metal things. They like aluminum things. They like a lot of our equipment," Jacobs said.

TECO estimates the work will be completed by the end of the year. The project is currently a month ahead of schedule.

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