The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District), in partnership with Tampa Bay Water, announces the successful environmental recovery efforts of the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area. The success of the Northern Tampa Bay recovery efforts was detailed at the Governing Board’s February meeting. The Board has concurred that a recovery strategy is no longer required for the area because aquifer levels have rebounded and the health of the lakes and wetlands in the region have recovered or significantly improved.
The District has invested more than $300 million and Tampa Bay Water has invested nearly $2 billion toward this 20-year recovery effort, which has reduced groundwater withdrawals by about 50% and has developed innovative solutions to replace these reductions with alternative water sources, including surface water and desalinated sea water. Most notably, the ecological health of more than 1,300 lakes, wetlands, and other surface waterbodies in the area have recovered or significantly improved and most aquifer water levels are at their highest in four to six decades.
“By all measure, this is such an incredible model of what we can do as a community to reinforce and maintain a healthy environment,” said Governing Board Secretary Rebecca Smith who represents Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “I just think it’s amazing. A proud moment for our region, for sure.”
“This is the evidence of the value of the water management district working along with Tampa Bay Water,” said Governing Board Chair Kelly Rice. “We look forward to working with Tampa Bay Water for many, many more years.”
Before the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area was established in 1989, large amounts of water were permitted and pumped from the region’s wellfields, resulting in lakes and wetlands in the area losing water and, in some cases, drying up completely, which caused significant harm to the natural ecosystem. As a result, Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 ending the region’s “Water Wars.” The District and Tampa Bay Water worked in partnership to develop a 20-year recovery plan, which included reducing the amount of groundwater withdrawals in the area and developing alternative water sources for the residents of Tampa Bay.
Part of the joint recovery approach included Tampa Bay Water building one of the largest seawater desalination plants in North America located in Apollo Beach, pulling water from various river sources, constructing the 15-billion-gallon C.W. “Bill” Young Regional Reservoir in southern Hillsborough County, installing miles of pipelines to connect systems, and completing a surface water treatment plant. These alternative water resources have been critical in compensating for the reduction in groundwater withdrawals and the rise in demand for water due to population growth in the area. These alternative sources also provide resiliency, allowing Tampa Bay Water flexibility in its water sources.
The District will continue to monitor the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area to ensure continued success. Currently, Tampa Bay Water has a consolidated water use permit that includes all 10 wellfields in the area for an annual daily average of 90 million gallons. Tampa Bay Water has submitted a request to renew its consolidated water use permit for another 10 years at the current withdrawal level, which will go to the District’s Governing Board for approval later this year.