November 2020 – Gone are the days when the lower river was a stagnant backwater without any water flowing down from the middle river. The Lower Hillsborough River running through Tampa is once again healthy for wildlife and recreation. This is in no small part due to the establishment of a regulatory minimum flow of water from the middle river.
Minimum flows are limits established by the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) Governing Board for surface watercourses that are intended to prevent significant harm to the water resources or ecology of an area that may be caused by further water withdrawals. Pursuant to Florida Statutes, a recovery strategy was developed in 2007 to correct the deficiency in the minimum flow standard that was causing significant harm to the ecology and recreational quality of the lower river.
The minimum flow standard was revised in 2007 and a joint funding agreement with the City of Tampa was signed to implement recovery projects. The recovery strategy requires that in 2013, and for each five-year period through 2023, the District shall evaluate the strategy and implementation of the recovery. The first five-year evaluation was published in 2015. The second five-year evaluation was provided to the District’s Governing Board in May 2020.
The District is beginning its third evaluation of the strategy needed to recover minimum flows adopted for the Lower Hillsborough River. As the district examines the data and process for the third five-year evaluation, they have convened a stakeholders group, including a member of the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board’s Technical Advisory Council, to review and comment on the process. The stakeholders group is reviewing what data is collected and how and will later discuss success criteria. Records since 2012 show there has not been a year without days that failed to meet the minimum flow.