River Conditions Change with the Seasons
May 2020 – While the winter saw a relatively high amount of rainfall, spring brought the Tampa Bay Area’s typical dry season. March was one of just three months ever in the Tampa Bay Area to have less than .01 inches of rain. Typically, we have an average of three inches of rainfall in March. The Hillsborough River, largely fed by rainfall, has begun to feel these changes. It is not unusual for the height of the water in the river and the amount of water flowing down the river to change through the seasons.
In addition, when there is less rainfall and more people at home due to COVID-19, more people are using water outdoors for uses such as watering their lawns. The regional potable water wholesaler, Tampa Bay Water, reached an all-time high for water delivery in March. Although April was a little wetter than usual, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) issued a Phase I Water Shortage Order effective May 8 that requires local governments to prohibit wasteful water use.
The City of Tampa and the SWFWMD monitor the water levels in the river to maintain the environmental health of the river. The United States Geological Survey has monitoring stations in the river. One station (USGS 02303000) near Zephyrhills, FL offers a glimpse of what is happening in the upper areas of the River. The data indicates a steady decline in flow and water height starting in early February, with some notable upswings due to recent intermittent heavy rains. This data is also easily accessible online.
Discharge, cubic feet per second
Discharge at the USGS station 02304500 near Tampa shows what is happening just above the City of Tampa Dam in the Middle River adjacent to the lower river.
Gage Height in Feet
USGS monitoring station 02303000 is located just above the City of Tampa dam. The height of the Hillsborough River Dam is 22.5 feet and any level higher than this indicates water is flowing over the dam. The data indicates water last flowed over the dam in early March.
With multiple monitoring stations, scientists and citizens alike can monitor the health and well-being of the Hillsborough River.