THE RESCUE OF TAMPA BAY BEGAN IN 1972, 45 YEARS AGO. NOW HERE WE ARE IN 2017, WITH THE TREASURE COAST BEGINNING TO COME TO TERMS WITH CLEANING UP THE INDIAN RIVER LAGOON.
In the 1970’s Tampa Bay was considered to be dead and many questioned if it could be saved. The Bay is 400 square miles.
Rick Garrity, then the City’s urban environmental coordinator said: “If you stood at the intersection of Bayshore and Bay to Bay in the middle of the summer you could not stand the stench. It was horrible.”
But now, according to Tampa Bay Times writer Steve Contorno who wrote on 7.18.2016 “Sea grass coverage here, a key measure of water quality and clarity, last year surpassed 40,000 acres – levels not seen since the 1950’s and nearly double the low point. Fish and other wildlife populations have rebounded, as anglers testify, and the stench of the algae blooms is rare.”
While treating waste water “was the low hanging fruit,” said Tom Ash, the assistant director of Water Management Division with the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, it was collaboration, education and everyone pulling together that ultimately saved Tampa Bay.
In 1972 former Hillsboro County Commissioner Jan Platt scored an environmental victory by stopping Pinellas County from building a 19-inch outfall pipe designed to dump lightly treated sewage directly into the Tampa Bay.
Her widely publicized victory set off a movement that made people realize, for example, that their sewage from flushing the toilet was running off to the Bay. It increased everyone’s awareness of the pollution and inspired residents to petition to clean up the Bay.
The petition had a goal of restoring 38,000 acres of seagrass by removing nitrogen pollutants mainly responsible for forming algae blooms which close the water and prevent the sun from reaching seagrass.
Local governments, utility companies and other industries and groups invested $ 500 million in roughly 500 projects to combat the nitrogen.
$ 90 million was spent on building Tampa’s Howard F. Curren Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant, which turned wastewater into drinkable water. The plant opened in 1979.
St. Petersburg, in a first in the nation project, diverted treated wastewater to golf courses.
According to Holly Greening, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, “Between those two major actions there, nitrogen pollution to the bay was cut in half from 1980-1985.”
On 6.9.2015 Letitia Stein of Reuters wrote that: “When Tampa Bay was grappling with repeated fish kills and murky water two decades ago, the scientists who set out to restore its health by bringing back once-bountiful underwater grasses were doubtful it could be done in their lifetime.
Yet that mission has now been accomplished. New data show Tampa Bay’s seagrasses at levels not seen since the 1950’s, before urban development exploded along Florida’s west coast and nitrogen pollution of its waters soared.
Experts say the sweeping recovery in Tampa Bay is made more impressive because it appears so far unmatched.”
Tampa Bay Sierra Club