For Immediate Release
CLEARWATER, Fla. (May 28, 2019) – When Tampa Bay Water was created 20 years ago, it was charged with developing alternative water supplies to reduce the region’s reliance on groundwater while providing drinking water in an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective manner. As we celebrate American Wetlands Month, the evidence of Tampa Bay Water’s success is seen in the environmental recovery in and around the area’s wellfields.
More than 60 percent of Tampa Bay Water’s drinking water supply comes from groundwater wells located in and around Tampa Bay area wetlands. Wetlands are saturated lands filled with marshes, swamps, alligators and birds, and wetland health is essential to our region’s water supply. Wetlands help improve water quality, reduce flooding and provide critical habitat for plants, fish and wildlife.
Utility staff is currently working on a Recovery Assessment Plan as part of its Consolidated Permit for groundwater pumping from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). The work includes evaluating the effects of the reduced wellfield pumping on area lakes and wetlands.
The alternative water supplies developed by Tampa Bay Water, including river water, desalinated seawater and a 15.5-billion-gallon reservoir, allowed the agency to reduce groundwater pumping by nearly half at its 11 groundwater wellfields, from 160 million gallons per day (mgd) in 2000 to below 90 mgd annual average for the past nine years. As of the end of December 2018, the reduced wellfield pumping has helped many of the studied lakes and wetlands return to healthy levels.
Tampa Bay Water has been evaluating the health of 1,264 lakes and wetlands since 2011, and recently completed a preliminary environmental recovery assessment report that finds:
- Approximately 75 percent of the monitored lakes and wetlands meet the metric or standard for recovery (as of late 2018).
- Approximately 21 percent show significant improvement, but do not yet meet the recovery metrics.
- Less than 2 percent are significantly below the recovery metrics.
To quantify environmental recovery, Tampa Bay Water developed a multi-year study of environmental health and the results of its wellfield pumping reductions. This recovery assessment plan is the first of its kind to be performed in the state of Florida, and its goal is to answer the question, “Has the environment fully recovered from pumping impacts?” in a thorough and scientific manner.
Tampa Bay Water will complete its final assessment and the results will be presented in a comprehensive report as part of the utility’s renewal application for its Consolidated Water Use Permit for these wellfields in late 2020.
The partnership between Tampa Bay Water and SWFWMD has enabled water resource managers in the Tampa Bay region to find a balance between meeting the drinking water needs of the growing population while keeping enough water in the environment to sustain the health of the region’s lakes and wetlands, and the plants and wildlife that depend upon them.
American Wetlands Month was created in 1991 by the Environmental Protection Agency and its federal, state and local partners to celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to the nation's ecological, economic, and social health. Recovery of the environment is an ongoing process and Tampa Bay Water will continue its studies to confirm and refine the preliminary findings. To learn more about American Wetlands Month and wetlands protection and restoration, visit www.epa.gov/wetlands/may-american-wetlands-month.
About Tampa Bay Water
Tampa Bay Water is the largest wholesale water supplier in Florida, providing high-quality drinking water to its members, who in turn, supply water to more than 2.5 million residents of the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay Water member governments include the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa, and the counties of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas. To learn more, visit tampabaywater.org.