TAMPA — Friday’s day-long downpour proved to be a test for new pumping systems installed in the North Tampa area two years ago.
Public works officials at the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County said the twin systems — one county-operated north of University Square Mall at Duck Pond East, the other city-operated south of Fowler Avenue at Donut Pond — worked as expected but were overwhelmed by the amount of water they had to handle.
“We got inordinately more rainfall that we ever would have expected in a normal summertime rainfall,” said Irvin Lee, Tampa’s public works director.
In 2012, the city and county completed a combined $13.5 million in drainage improvements near the intersection of East Fowler Avenue and North 30th Street, an area that was swamped by a foot of rain from Tropical Storm Debby the same year.
Based on weather observations made in North Tampa, Friday’s chain of storms dumped more than 9 inches of rain over a relatively small area centered on Busch Gardens. Friday and Saturday, the systems pumped a combined 73 millions gallons of water into the Hillsborough River. That’s the equivalent of 110 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
All that water had to go through a single pipe, albeit a big one at 6 feet across, running down North 30th Street. The pipe is enough to handle a rainfall of up to an inch and hour so the rain that fell Friday was too much, Lee said.
The city and county had to coordinate their pumping, switching the systems from automatic to manual controls, in order to manage the system more carefully. That meant taking turns pumping, with the city shutting its Donut Pond pumps down briefly while county crews cleared Duck Pond — then the county making way for the city’s pumping.
“There’s this misconception out there that somehow our pumps failed,” Lee said. “The system worked as intended. We’re not disappointed.”
Switching pumps back and forth meant rainfall collected in ponds and streets when the pumps were turned off. But even that wasn’t as bad has it has been in the past, said John Lyons, public works director for Hillsborough County.
“There was no flooding,” Lyons said. “There was some deep water in a couple of areas, but I wouldn’t consider that flooding. It was nothing like we saw in 2012 and 2004. That was back when they evacuated the nursing home.”
In 2012, during Tropical Storm Debby, county officials evacuated Sunrise Village Retirement Home on North 17th Street.
Flooding from Hurricane Frances in 2004 helped Tampa land federal funding for some of the costs of drainage improvements.
Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said her house in Terrace Park had some flooding on Friday. Other residents of her district, which covers North Tampa and New Tampa, had trouble reaching their homes through flooded streets and cars were damaged by the water.
Still, it could have been worse without the $7 million investment at Donut Pond, she said.
Montelione said she’d like to see the city make improvements to other ponds in the same area as a way to create storage for similar storms in the future.
“We did all that work to the Donut Pond,” she said. “But there are other ponds that haven’t gotten any work.”
Lyons said Friday rain and flooding were a reminder that all storms are not equal.
“You can have a lot of rain over long period of time or a similar amount fall over a short period of time,” he said. “The effects are different.”