Like many businesses, Tampa Bay Water provides a quality product to its customers. Each year, it must budget how much of that product it believes will be needed and then make sure there is enough supply to meet that demand. Outside factors sometimes play a part in changing that demand, so Tampa Bay Water must adjust for those factors accordingly. Of course, the product we are speaking of is water, and the outside factors that affected its demand levels in 2015 were weather – including record-breaking summer rainfalls.
For 2015, Tampa Bay Water budgeted that it would deliver 167.6 mgd (millions of gallons of water per day) of wholesale drinking water to its customers – Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
In reality, Tampa Bay Water delivered approximately 7 percent less water than was budgeted (156.1 mgd) due to the relatively wet and cooler fall, as well as a very wet summer season. This resulted in less overall demand and also provided sufficient water in the Hillsborough River to meet the City of Tampa’s needs. Therefore, Tampa did not purchase any water from Tampa Bay Water this year – the third year in a row that has occurred.
Rainfall is our key factor influencing seasonal use of water as well as seasonal availability of water. Looking ahead, the major weather condition that may affect our water availability is El Niño.
“We are currently in a moderate El Niño and every indication is that it is strengthening,” said Tirusew Asefa, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, manager of modeling and decision support for Tampa Bay Water, during a presentation to the Tampa Bay Water board of directors. “This means that for the upcoming fall and winter, we will get the typical El Niño pattern of cool and wetter conditions for the lower half of the continental United States and drier and warmer conditions for the top half of the United States.”
The likely result? Lots of rain during what is normally the Tampa Bay area’s drier season, resulting in a lower demand for water.
As we budget for next year, we must also monitor what the following years might bring as a result of El Niño. In the past, strong El Niños tend to be followed by a multi-year drought. The El Niño that occurred in 1997 and 1998 was followed by one of the strongest droughts in the last few decades. We must prepare for this possibility as we move forward with our water supply planning.