One in every five jobs in the Tampa Bay watershed depends on keeping the bay itself healthy, according to a new study unveiled Tuesday.
A clean bay also contributes about $22 billion to the bay area's total economic activity over the larger, six-county region, according to the study conducted by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
The survey — the first look at the bay's economic impact since 1999 — looked at employment, real estate, food services and lodging in an area that includes all or parts of counties from Hernando to Sarasota. The two agencies also sent a detailed survey to 76 professionals working in industries affiliated with the bay.
The results show "that a healthy economy and a healthy environment are mutually beneficial and not mutually exclusive," estuary program executive director Holly Greening said.
The bay's bounty drew settlers here originally, and the bay still attracts people buying real estate or pursuing boating or other water-related activities here, the study notes.
Homes directly on the bay generate about four times the property tax revenue of those not on the waterfront, the study found. Even homes within a quarter-mile of the bay produce double the tax revenues of those farther away.
Other findings are less obvious. For instance, the growth of underwater sea grasses, as well as shoreline marshes and mangroves, means about $24 million less money spent every year on wastewater treatment plants to reduce nutrient pollution.
Since 1974, the estuary program's scientists have checked the quality in the four sections of the bay — Old Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, Middle Tampa Bay and Lower Tampa Bay — to see if the water is clean enough to promote natural recovery of sea grass.
Sea grasses are crucial to the health of the bay, but decades ago, they declined sharply to 22,000 acres by 1982.
By 2011, though, strenuous local government efforts to clean up pollution flowing into the bay had encouraged the spread of sea grass until it covered nearly 33,000 acres of the bay, leading to a rebound of fish population.
According to Greening, the water quality of the bay is now as good as it was in the 1950s.
Craig Pittman can be reached at email@example.com or follow him @craigtimes.