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Summer of rain bringing problems, benefits

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Published:   |   Updated: August 30, 2013 at 09:49 PM

TAMPA — The incessant rains of this summer seem to have been going on forever, leaving glimpses of afternoon sunshine a distant memory.

West Central Florida has all but drowned this summer. In some parts of Hillsborough county, more than 25 inches of rain has fallen since the beginning of June.

But while the daily torrential rainfall has caused its share of problems, the rains have provided some benefits as well.

On the downside, the ground is saturated, leading to worries about flooding as the height of hurricane season approaches. Some regional and county parks are closed because of overflowing rivers and springs.

Mosquitoes? Oh, yes. And in the days after every storm come the health department warning: Bay side beaches are closed because the water is infected with fecal coliform bacteria, the result of stormwater runoff.

On the upside, rivers are flowing, lakes are full and the aquifer is flush.

Hydrologists say the good outweights the bad.

Granville Kinsman is the manager of the hydrologic data section at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which oversees water resources in a 16-county region that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk.

The amount of rain since June has the hydrological landscape swimming, he said.

“Everything is really good right now,” he said. “Ground water is healthy. On a scale of zero to 100, we’re at 74, meaning we’re at the top of the normal range. The lakes are well within the normal range right now. The hydrologic conditions of the Tampa Bay region are doing really well.”

But while the region’s water supply is in good shape, full lakes and rivers mean less capacity to absorb rainfall from a slow-moving tropical storm or hurricane. Even with that reality, though, Kinsman said, there’s no reason to overly worry.

“There are so many variables,” Kinsman said. “Potentially, we could have localized flooding conditions. There could be large-scale flooding. The rivers are on the high side of normal. If we get good amount of rain, they could get up to flood stage.”

Hurricane prognosticators with the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University have backed off of their April predictions, when they saw nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes forming in the Atlantic. Now, they are saying eight hurricanes likely will form before the end of the season, and three major hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there could be 13 to 19 named storms yet to come, and six to nine of those could become hurricanes. At the very least, these storms will drench a wide swath in their path.

Tampa Bay Water has built a 15-billon-gallon reservoir in eastern Hillsborough County that should have been benefiting from the summer’s heavy rains. Water from there slakes the thirst of people in the region during the dry months.

But the reservoir is largely out of commission as construction crews reline the massive earthen tank, which has been mostly drained for the project. Work to repair cracks in the reservoir won’t be completed until the fall of next year.

Still, there should be enough water to keep people from going dry, said Brandon Moore, spokesman for Tampa Bay Water, which provides wholesale water to municipalities and counties in West Central Florida.

“We’re on schedule to begin filling (the reservoir) by the summer of 2014,” he said. “We’re fixing it from the bottom up, so we can start to put next year’s summer rains in it.”

Crews have worked their way up enough from the bottom to begin storing some water in the reservoir now, he said. From June 26 to Aug. 8, the reservoir has pumped out 200 million gallons to customers.

“That’s 5 million gallons a day,” he said.

Come October and November, when the skies clear and rain is scarce, there should still be enough water to go around, Moore said.

“We are going to meet the needs from other sources,” he said, “ground water, river water when available and desalinated sea water.”

He said the desalination plant is scheduled to come back on line as early as October.

About a dozen parks and preserves in low lying areas of the county were shut down earlier this month because the rain left standing water across hiking paths and picnic areas, said Kemly Green, spokeswoman for the county’s parks and recreation department.

“The preserves,” she said Thursday afternoon, “are all still closed.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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