TEMPLE TERRACE — Residents filled Temple Terrace's City Council chambers to hear what the Southwest Florida Water Management District had to say.
The hemming and hawing was audible as executive director Dave Moore said the agency has been doing everything it can to meet everyone's needs.
"What people don't appreciate is that in Florida rivers often go dry in the dry periods until the rains come," Moore said.
The Middle Hillsborough River was plagued with substantially low levels throughout early 2008, prompting City Council member Frank Chillura's River Watch Task force to take up the matter with the water management district. Temple Terrace's section of the river also serves as Tampa's reservoir.
Residents say the low levels in the river are starting to destroy the ecosystem.
"Water in the wetlands east of the river that should be 2 feet high is only 2 inches deep," said William Smalley, a longtime resident. "My wife and I usually collect hundreds of crayfish and pollywogs for her second-grade classes every year but this year there weren't any."
Though the river has risen significantly, due to recent rains, low levels remain an concern.
"Its a cyclical issue," said Michael Dunn, city spokesman. "We're getting with SWFMD to be heard in their policymaking decisions because it seems that Tampa's voice was heard and ours wasn't."
Dunn said the river dipped to 6 feet below normal this year, causing city officials to cancel recreational activities on the water, including boating for riverfront property owners.
"There's so much pumping going on in our great natural resource, " Dunn said. "And it affects the wildlife."
Council members Ron Govin and Mark Knapp said they see the problem firsthand since the river that flows behind their homes is only inches deep.
Chillura said the task force is pushing Swiftmud to consider adding reclaimed water downstream to reduce the freshwater that must be discharged to keep the lower river healthy. That idea has opposition from others who fear it will degrade the lower river environment.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.