Tropical Storm Debby reminded us that Florida's public water supply utilities are among the most susceptible in the United States to storm surges due to climate variations. From drought to flooding, this is the nature of managing our regional water supplies in west central Florida.
Through spring 2012 the Tampa Bay region experienced record low flow in our surface water sources, the Alafia and Hillsborough Rivers, and the Tampa Bypass Canal. Water levels in the Hillsborough River Reservoir, which is the primary source of water for the City of Tampa, continued to decline despite continued augmentation from the Tampa Bypass Canal, as Tampa Bay Water relied solely on stored water in its Regional Reservoir.
After six months of continuous below-normal rainfall, a reprieve arrived in early June, bringing much needed rainfall and beginning the process of refilling depressions and wetlands that would turn into river flow.
As Debby was developing in the Caribbean, Tampa Bay Water’s hydrologists and operators began evaluating the opportunity to capture the impending, excess surface water and provide relief to groundwater pumping. Using 1 to 5 day rainfall total forecast produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Tampa Bay Water was able to predict potential timing and availability of surface water. As Debby rains arrived, Tampa Bay Water prepared to activate our pump stations along the Alafia River and Tampa Bypass Canal. By June 25 Tampa Bay Water was capturing river water, increasing production from the surface water treatment plant and adding storage to the regional reservoir.
Today production from the Surface Water Treatment has doubled compared to spring production and Tampa Bay Water is adding water to its regional reservoir, in preparation for for the next dry event, which we know is on the way.