Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River are Haunted by Nitrogen and Fecal Coliform

Environment Florida

TAMPA, Fla. – Today on the shores of the Hillsborough River, Environment Florida and the Gulf Restoration Network held an event to release “Ten Scary Facts About Florida Water,” a new factsheet which compiles 10 of the most frightening realities about pollution in the area’s most iconic waterways. The groups were joined by Shahra Anderson, Regional Director for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Vito Sheeley, Outreach Director for U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, Peter Owens, Professional Engineer for the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, local farmer Aubrey Hanford, and Tampa Bay citizens concerned about water.

“For more than a decade, loopholes in the Clean Water Act have allowed Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River to become a witch’s brew of pollutants,” said Jennifer Rubiello, Field Associate with Environment Florida. “President Obama has the power to make fishing and swimming in Tampa Bay a lot less scary. Today, we are urging the Obama administration to ensure that Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River are protected now and for future generations.”

The Halloween-themed event comes on the heels of the EPA’s announcement to move forward with a rulemaking to restore Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands across the country. The rule could close loopholes that leave nearly 30% of Florida’s streams and the drinking water for close to 2 million Floridians at risk of unchecked pollution.

The most terrifying facts revealed today include:

  1. Tampa Bay is the largest open water estuary on the Gulf of Mexico, yet it is assaulted by more than 4 billion gallons of oil, fertilizer ingredients and other hazardous materials each year.[1]
  2. Tampa-St. Petersburg is the most densely populated region in all of Florida, yet Hillsborough County ranks first in Florida for miles of streams unprotected by the Clean Water Act, and much of Florida has no data whatsoever![2]
  3. More than 80 percent of the lakes and reservoirs that have been tested in Florida have failed basic water quality standards.[3] Yet, over 2/3 of the Florida delegation voted to undermine restoration of Clean Water Act safeguards.[4]

Cathy Harrelson, Florida Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network observed: “What’s even scarier is what’s at stake: For the folks around here, the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay mean fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking and enjoying the rich bounty of wildlife in these freshwater and saltwater playgrounds in our backyard.  Our springs, rivers, lakes and streams provide drinking water for us and habitat for the fish, aquatic and marine species that make Florida a visitors’ paradise.”

“The Hillsborough River, and the hundreds of miles of streams and creeks that feed into it, are probably the most important in the state for water supply,” added Pete Owens, Professional Engineer for the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County. “Most of the city of Tampa gets water from the Hillsborough, and when flows are great enough, it provides water for the entire region.”

The EPA is taking public comments until November 3rd, and will hold a public meeting in mid-December to gather information on the science connecting our smaller streams and wetlands to larger bodies of water.

“Environment Florida and the Gulf Restoration Network thank members of Congress like Congresswoman Castor for standing up for clean water,” Rubiello said. “Support in Congress is critical to preventing further efforts to weaken Clean Water Act protections and helping the Obama administration restore protections to waterways that feed Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River.”

“It’s time to give Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River the Halloween treat it deserves – protection from polluters,” said Rubiello. “We thank the EPA for taking the first step forward to protect our waters. The Obama administration should finish the job and ensure that the Hillsborough River and all our waterways will be less scary for future Halloweens.”


Environment Florida is a statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open spaces. For more information visit: www.environmentflorida.org


[1] Tampa Bay Estuary Program, A Portrait of the Tampa Bay Estuary: Fast Facts About Tampa Bay downloaded from http://www.tbep.org/portrait/fast_facts.html on 18 October 2013.

[2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral, and Headwater Streams in the U.S. downloaded from http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/upload/wetlands_science_surface_drinking_water_surface_drinking_water_results_county.pdf on 18 October 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Roll call 311. Amendment offered by Rep. Jim Moran to H.R. 2609, July 5, 2013.