Southwest Florida District OKs Emergency Withdrawal Orders

According to a Feb. 16 press release, Southwest Florida Water Management District Executive Director David Moore recently signed two water shortage emergency orders that will allow the city of Tampa to withdraw additional water from Sulphur Springs and Tampa Bay Water (TBW) to withdraw additional water from the Tampa Bypass Canal to help meet the potable water demand of its member governments.

Ongoing drought conditions have caused an acute water shortage within the region.

The city of Tampa primarily relies on its Hillsborough River Reservoir to meet the water needs of 656,000 residents. As of Feb. 10, the reservoir’s level was below 20.68 feet, a level not normally seen until the end of the dry season in late May. This level is expected to continue to decline.

The first emergency order will allow Tampa to withdraw water from Sulphur Springs to augment its reservoir when the reservoir elevation is above 18 feet. Normally, the city’s district-issued water use permit only allows such withdrawals when the reservoir is below 18 feet. However, the annual average withdrawal still cannot exceed 5 million gallons per day (mgd), and the maximum daily withdrawal cannot exceed 20 mgd as specified in the permit. This emergency order will allow Tampa to put about 3.23 mgd of spring water into the reservoir in order to reduce its current reliance on potable water from TBW. However, this will not affect the implementation of minimum flows and levels in the Lower Hillsborough River.

The region’s wholesale water supplier, TBW, provides water to Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, as well as the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg, and Tampa.

The second emergency order allows TBW to temporarily withdraw up to 10 mgd from the Tampa Bypass Canal’s lower pool as a means of increasing production from its surface water treatment plant. This additional withdrawal can take place as long as water levels in the lower pool of the canal remain at or above 7.5 feet, the level needed to ensure proper functioning of the canal’s flood control structures. TBW’s district-issued water use permit that normally governs canal withdrawals would otherwise require TBW to stop pumping when the level in the lower pool reaches 9 feet.

Both emergency orders are in effect until June 30.

TBW typically stores water from the Alafia River and Hillsborough River in its C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir during the wet season to withdraw during the dry season. When full, TBW’s reservoir stores up to 15 billion gallons of water. As of Feb. 12, it had less than one billion gallons in storage. At the current rate of withdrawal, TBW expects to deplete that storage by the end of March, but these emergency measures and aggressive water conservation by area residents can help reduce the rate of withdrawal as well as keep withdrawals from TBW’s major wellfields below or near its permitted quantity of 90 mgd.