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Does The Tampa Water Shortage Affect Water Quality? What Homeowners Need To Know

The Sunshine State may be experiencing a little too much sunshine, according to water management officials in Tampa. The lack of rain has led to officials placing restrictions on water usage in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties in recent years. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has determined that yearly drought conditions on Tampa require residents to conserve water and restrict water usage.

 However, while these restrictions are crucial for conserving water, they also raise concerns about the potential impact on water quality that droughts have in Tampa Bay.

How is the Tampa Water Shortage Affecting Water Quality?

Yes, water shortages can affect the quality of your water. Water shortages occur when an area experiences a rainfall deficit happen, leading to droughts that heavily affect the quality of water. Scientists have found that “water systems can experience supply problems either because of an insufficient volume of water, or an insufficient amount of clean water… the intertwined nature of water quality and quantity”

Water quality is never perfect prior to filtering and processing. The Clean Water Act ensures that water suppliers and local governments filter water according to their defined clean water regulations. However, these regulations are not exhaustive and certain contaminants are still in your drinking water.

Areas that are close to bodies of water are more susceptible to contaminants in their drinking water. Tampa is no exception to that rule and is heavily reliant on surface water sources like rivers and reservoirs over aquifers. These surface water sources have experienced major contaminants being introduced into the bodies of water that supply drinking water in the last 10 years that homeowners are concerned about- and they have the right to be worried about the quality of their drinking water amid the turbulent nature of their water supply.

Phosphate Contaminated Water Leak

Even though the phosphate mines have been abandoned for more than 2 decades, Piney Point Reservoir pond was still filled with millions of gallons of contaminated water. The man-made lake had a liner to prevent the phosphate filled water from entering the bay and the ground water that was located underneath it. However, the liner had been decaying over the years and the managers had known it was not it good condition, but did nothing about the state of the liner. In 2021, the liner had a leak and was spilling contaminated water into the bay. Due to the amount of water that could flood into surrounding areas if the liner ruptured any further, the businesses and residences in the area were evacuated. In order to prevent flooding, officials redirected the water directly into the bay, and over 200 million contaminated gallons of water were dumped into Tampa Bay.

Red Tide Toxins

Harmful algal blooms have grown aggressively over the last five years in Tampa Bay waters. Red tide is a specific type of algal bloom that is caused by excess nutrients and warming water temperatures. Algal blooms like red tide can release harmful toxins into the water and these toxins can harm fish, make shellfish dangerous to eat, and make the air dangerous for humans to breathe in. Learn more about the harmful effects of red tide, and how reverse osmosis filters are able to filter out algal blooms.

Stormwater Runoff

The largest watershed pollutant is stormwater runoff which is filled with nitrogen that causes, algal blooms when in excess. 59% of nitrogen in Tampa Bay water comes from stormwater runoff which reduces oxygen level in water, kills wildlife and seagrass, along with dumping microplastics into the bay. Stormwater is hard to prevent from entering the water supply, leading to these pollutants being in the water, causing water quality to decline.

Population Growth

The 2022 Tampa Water Quality Report, acknowledges that rapid population growth and development in the region have increased the risk of contamination for drinking water sources like the Hillsborough River, which provides 98% of Tampa’s drinking water supply. Rapidly growing populations need infrastructure, housing and to consume drinking water, and all of these items require building which can contaminate the water which is now in shorter supply.

Why Do Pollutants Matter?

Being aware of pollutants that are prevalent in your area is important, but if you trust your local water officials to clean your water properly, why should you be concerned? In the face of yearly water shortages, the water in the bay and rivers that feed into it are the main sources for drinking water, Tampa Bay relies on this water to sustain the entire region, so what happens when the only water that is available is polluted and there is less of it every year? How is the Tampa area supposed to trust the water in their pipes if the sources themselves are increasingly contaminated and dwindling, leaving little room for error during filtration?

You can protect your drinking water by installing a whole house water filter from Culligan.

Why is There a Water Shortage in Tampa Bay?

You might be wondering why there is a drought, even though you have personally experienced a lot of rain in Tampa. A majority of the state of Florida experiences two seasons throughout the year, rainy or dry season, and “For Central Florida, the rainy season starts in late May and runs through October, and about 61 percent of the average rainfall happens during these 6 months

During a typical year there is enough rainfall to fill the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir that Tampa can use that water to supply the city. However recently there has not been enough rainfall to fill the reservoir leading to rainfall deficits and subsequent droughts.

What are Droughts?

The National Weather Service defines droughts as a “deficiency in precipitation over an extended period.” In layman’s terms, a drought is a phenomenon that occurs whenever a specific area experiences no precipitation or rain resulting in dry conditions and can be heightened by extreme heat and wind. 

Tampa is experiencing a hydrological drought as there is a lack of water supply in a region due the lack of rainfall, which causes a rainfall deficit. A rainfall deficit is the degree of dryness or how long an area has gone without rain and how dry the area is as a consequence of no precipitation. 

Essentially, Tampa does not get enough rainfall during the rainy season, so whenever the region experiences a drought, this will trigger a water shortage, as the reservoir is not being supplied with additional water.

How is this affecting Tampa Homeowners?

So who is this drought affecting? Over half a million people need water in Tampa, so with little water left in the reservoir, changes will need to be made by city officials and residents alike to ensure this drought does not become a more urgent problem.

How Serious Are Droughts in Florida?

The U.S. Drought Monitor defines and watches drought conditions all across the country. The counties that encompass and surround Tampa only experience drought conditions from a range of Abnormally Dry to Severe Drought, which is 1 through 3 on the severity scale out of 4 possible conditions.

Normally if there is a drought The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) officials have declared that Tampa droughts are moderate and due to rainfall deficits as they do not usually progress beyond a drought warning. 

The city of Tampa follows SWFWMD mandates and they typically declare Phase I Water Shortage Orders for the Tampa region. This order indicates that there is a shortage impending and preventative measures need to be taken to prevent a more severe water shortage.

What are the Tampa Bay Water Restrictions ?

How does this affect you? The main way that the Tampa water officials plan to save reservoir water is to limit the amount of water residents are using on their landscaping. Irrigation restrictions are the only changes residents are required to make to their daily lives in order to prevent worsening of the water shortage. While the grass is greener on the other side of water usage restrictions; they do help prevent more severe droughts and the need to further limit the ability to freely water lawns.

The restrictions typically involve a lawn watering schedule that separates residences by the last number in their address. Then, SWFWMD assigns a day of the week to each residence that ends with that specific number, and that is the day they are allowed to water their lawns and landscaping. An example of the type of watering schedule that the SWFWMD creates looks like having addresses that end in 0 or 1 water their lawns only on Mondays, and they cannot water their lawns and landscaping until the next Monday.

 What Can Homeowners Do To Help the Water Shortage?

Residents of Tampa can help to lessen the effects of the water shortage by limiting their water usage. Just by complying with the lawn watering restrictions, residents are able to save water, as outdoor water usage is 50% of household water usage in Tampa.

Reducing outdoor water consumption can also be accomplished by checking home irrigation systems and making sure that they are functioning properly. If your pipes or sprinklers are broken and leaking, which would lead to wasted water. SWFWMD also recommends checking that irrigation timers and rain sensors are also working, as if they are malfunctioning, more water can be wasted.

Want to Improve Your Tampa Home’s Water Quality?

Concerned about water shortages? Improve your home’s water system with Culligan. Make every drop count by ensuring your water is of the highest quality. Visit our solution center to learn about different water problems and how Culligan will make a difference in your water quality, water shortage or not!