Tampa Bay Water was formed 25 years ago to reduce the region’s reliance on groundwater and enable environmental recovery in northern Tampa Bay. And that we did. By adding river water and seawater into our water supply mix, we were able to reduce groundwater pumping by about 65 million gallons of water per day (mgd), even as the region’s population grew.
While groundwater still makes up more than 50% of the water Tampa Bay Water delivers to its members, river water accounts for nearly 40%, and desalinated seawater accounts for up to 10% of our supply blend. Seawater is used more during the region’s dry season — typically October to June — and river water takes center stage during the summer, when Florida’s drenching rains increase river flows.
The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant has provided billions of gallons of clean, safe drinking water to the Tampa Bay region since it went online in 2007. Co-located with Tampa Electric’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach, the desalination plant is the drought-proof component of our system.
The plant is currently offline for maintenance, as it is every summer. This year, it went offline in March to accommodate work at the TECO plant, but it will be back online in late 2023 as planned. Changes at TECO’s plant to minimize coal use have impacted the plant’s water production capacity, since intake water and discharge blending water comes directly from TECO’s cooling water line. With TECO retiring two of the power plant’s four production units, less water is available for desalination. Tampa Bay Water is constructing another intake tunnel to increase available water, anticipated to be complete in 2025. In the meantime, the plant will continue production at a lower rate, and Tampa Bay Water is investigating using other sources through its Long-term Master Water Plan, such as brackish or reclaimed water.
Our Enhanced Surface Water System makes good use of the 47-50 inches of rain that typically falls in the Tampa Bay region. Water is skimmed from the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal when flows allow. While some river water is used directly, the rest is stored in the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir to use in drier times.
Groundwater continues to be a reliable source of drinking water for our region as demonstrated by 25 years of sustainable operations and unprecedented environmental recovery in northern Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay Water is permitted to withdraw an annual average of 120 mgd from 12 wellfields in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
With three water sources, Tampa Bay Water is able to shift production where it’s needed to meet demand and in response to climate or environmental conditions. That’s the genius of our blended regional system.