Here's a situation no project owner would ever want to face: Four years after completing construction of a brand new $140-million structure, they find out the facility is basically inoperable and necessary repairs could cost as much as $125 million.

Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation in which Tampa Bay Water appears to find itself.

As I previously reported last fall for ENR, the 15-billion-gallon reservoir, now about 4 years old, had been experiencing significant cracking along its interior lining. The problem areas were in the soil-cement lining of the interior walls, which had been designed as an alternative erosion-control component of the reservoir.

Last fall, while still studying the reasons for the severe cracking, Tampa Bay Water had decided to move forward with a lawsuit against the reservoir's design and construction team. This included Omaha, Neb.-based HDR, the designer; general contractor Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Mont.; and Construction Dynamics Group of Columbia, Md., which had served as construction manager. (While studying the cracks, it became necessary to lower the water level to about half of the reservoir's capacity. As if adding insult to injury, a lack of rain eventually lowered the water level to nearly empty by this past May.)

A St. Petersburg Times article published June 5 explained the results of the investigation: "An investigation found water is getting trapped between the soil-cement lining and the membrane, utility officials said. As long as the reservoir is full, the trapped water remains stable. When the utility draws down the reservoir, though, pressure increases on trapped water in some areas, producing cracks and soil erosion."

The article continued: "The problem originated with a last-minute design change. The state Department of Environmental Protection, while reviewing the reservoir's permit application, had suggested adding another layer of soil to protect the membrane from tearing.... That's when HDR Engineering added a soil wedge between the soil-cement layer and the membrane—but the company did not take into account the possibility that water could get trapped beneath it, the general manager said."

The repairs could begin in 2012 and take two years to complete. The reservoir would need to be empty for the repairs to take place. The Times reports that "one early estimate (for repairs) puts it in the neighborhood of $125 million."

A spokesperson for HDR would only state: "HDR is fully cooperating with Tampa Bay Water to find a resolution that is agreeable to all parties. We cannot comment further at this time since litigation is pending."

Meanwhile, Howard Troxler, the excellent columnist for the St. Pete Times, in "How Many Tampa Bay Waters Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?," offered some humorous rantings about the seemingly never-ending stream of problems that Tampa Bay Water has experienced with its facilities, including this latest effort of "digging a hole in the ground to store water."