‘Water Wars’ end with victory for regional ecosystems
As the sun rises on another hot, bright day in the midst of our annual dry season, Tampa Bay residents can look at water differently than we did just 25 years ago. In 1976, the region was in the midst of “water wars” that pitted cities and counties against each other. Most of our water came from the shrinking Floridan Aquifer. The region’s growing population, combined with a years-long drought, caused lakes to shrivel, wetlands to waste away, and sinkholes to form in places where they had never been seen before.
“Something had to be done,” says Brian Armstrong, a hydrologist and executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “We knew it was going to take a large initiative to restore those ecosystems and also make sure that residents have a sustainable water source.”
More than 25 years and $2 billion later, groundwater withdrawals from the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area, which includes Pinellas, Pasco and most of Hillsborough counties, have been cut by more than 50%. More than 1,300 lakes, wetlands and waterbodies have largely recovered, and the aquifer is at its highest level in decades. The recovery assessment plan – the first of its kind in the nation – shows that 85% of the monitored lakes and wetlands have fully recovered or were never impacted by wellfield pumping.
“If you look out now, you’ll see healthy flora and fauna, birds and plant species,” Armstrong said. “Even the water levels in the dry season are amazing.”