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Management case study: Tampa Bay, Florida

January 1, 2011

Tampa Bay, Florida, USA, is a shallow, subtropical estuary that experienced severe cultural eutrophication between the 1940s and 1980s, a period when the human population of its watershed quadrupled. In response, citizen action led to the formation of a public- and private-sector partnership (the Tampa Bay Estuary Program), which adopted a number of management objectives to support the restoration and protection of the bay’s living resources. These included numeric chlorophyll a and water-clarity targets, as well as long-term goals addressing the spatial extent of seagrasses and other selected habitat types, to support estuarine-dependent faunal guilds.

Over the past three decades, nitrogen controls involving sources such as wastewater treatment plants, stormwater conveyance systems, fertilizer manufacturing and shipping operations, and power plants have been undertaken to meet these and other management objectives. Cumulatively, these controls have resulted in a 60% reduction in annual total nitrogen (TN) loads relative to earlier worse-case (latter 1970s) conditions. As a result, annual water-clarity and chlorophyll a targets are currently met in most years, and seagrass cover measured in 2008 was the highest recorded since 1950.

Factors that have contributed to the observed improvements in Tampa Bay over the past several decades include the following: (1) Development of numeric, science-based water-quality targets to meet a long-term goal of restoring seagrass acreage to 1950s levels. Empirical and mechanistic models found that annual average chlorophyll a concentrations were a primary manageable factor affecting light attenuation. The models also quantified relationships between TN loads, chlorophyll a concentrations, light attenuation, and fluctuations in seagrass cover. The availability of long-term monitoring data, and a systematic process for using the data to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions, has allowed managers to track progress and make adaptive changes when needed. (2) Citizen involvement, that is, the initial reductions in TN loads, which occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was a result of state regulations that were developed in response to citizens’ call for action. Improved water clarity and better fishing and swimming conditions were identified as primary goals by citizens again in the early 1990s, and led to development of numeric water-quality targets and seagrass restoration goals. More recent citizen actions, from pet waste campaigns to support of reductions in residential fertilizer use, are important elements of the nitrogen management strategy. (3) Collaborative actions, that is, in addition to numerous other collaborative ventures that have benefitted Tampa Bay, the public/private Nitrogen Management Consortium, which includes more than 40 participating organizations, has implemented over 250 nutrient-reduction projects. These projects have addressed stormwater treatment, fertilizer manufacturing and shipping, agricultural practices, reclaimed water use, and atmospheric emissions from local power stations, providing more than 300 tons of TN load reductions since 1995. (4) State and federal regulatory programs, that is, regulatory requirements, such as state statutes and rules requiring compliance with advanced wastewater treatment standards by municipal sewerage works, have played a key role in Tampa Bay management efforts. The technical basis and implementation plan of the Tampa Bay nitrogen management strategy have been developed in cooperation with state and federal regulatory agencies, and the strategy has been recognized by them as an appropriate tool for meeting water-quality standards, including federally mandated total maximum daily loads.

Subsequent management efforts have focused on maintaining and extending those improvements in Tampa Bay’s environmental resources by addressing water and sediment quality and habitat protection and restoration. Implementation of a collaborative, watershed-based management process, driven by an integrated science approach, has played a central role in supporting progress toward the achievement of science-based estuary management goals.

Publication Year 2011
Title Management case study: Tampa Bay, Florida
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-12-374711-2.01104-9
Authors Gerold Morrison, Holly Greening, Kimberly K. Yates
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70156865
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center