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Report: Old Tampa Bay's water quality continues to worsen

The northern body of water that sits between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties continues to see an uptick in nutrients that have contributed to yearly algae blooms
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Tampa Florida aerial view with Peter O'Knight Airport by the Hillsborough Bay and Howard Frankland Bridge and West Courtney Campbell Causeway on Old Tampa Bay in the distant.

TAMPA, Fla — A recent report shows the quality of water for a portion of Tampa Bay has continued to worsen for the sixth straight year.

Old Tampa Bay, the northern body of water that sits between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, has continued to see an uptick in harmful nutrients that have contributed to yearly algae blooms, according to the Tampa Estuary Program's recent report.

The program's assistant director, Maya Burke, says the source of the problem can be traced back to the various bridges and causeways that sprawl across the bay. The Gandy, Bayside, and Howard Frankland Bridge, along with the Courtney Campbell Causeway, are preventing water from naturally flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico, where the excess nutrients can be flushed out. 

Adding to the issue is all the fumes being emitted by vehicles that cross the bay, which find their way back down towards the water as nutrients.

"Air quality and water quality are tightly linked," Burke says. "When you have emissions, either from power plants or from automobiles that are commuting, the gases that come out of the back of the tailpipe contain nitrogen that then falls back down into the bay and is available for algae species to fuel their blooms."

Nutrients like the ones found in car fumes, fertilizers, and wastewater feed algae blooms which cut-off sunlight to seagrass that feeds marine life.

Burke says the estuary program has worked with Florida's Department of Transportation to raise portions of the bridges and causeways to address the issue of water flow. 

"Those causeways didn't exist at the beginning of Tampa Bay," Burke said. "We built those causeways because it's typically cheaper to build causeways, land bridges than it is to build over water bridges. Unfortunately, that cost-savings comes with a price for the environment."

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