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Above-normal rainy season raises bay area water levels

We are relieved when hurricane season passes without damaging Florida.

But tropical storms bring rains that keep our lakes and rivers healthy, even eliminating the need for dreaded water restrictions. This year, we win two ways.

Tropical storms have avoided the Tampa Bay area, but an exceptionally high summer rainfall, measuring 5 feet in some areas, has replenished groundwater levels and may sustain Florida through the dry season.

It is particularly good luck this year, since the regional water reservoir remains under construction through next July and drinking water resources could have been more strained without a wet rainy season, according to officials at Tampa Bay Water, the area's water manager.

"For all those people who say we don't have afternoon thunderstorms anymore, look back at the end of the rainy season because it was every day," said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist at Bay News 9.

Rainfall for Tampa reached 40.77 inches during this year's rainy season, June 1-Sept. 30. Average rainfall is 27.82 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Last year, Tampa's rainfall for the same period was 41.7 inches, but that number was significantly boosted by four days of pounding rain from Tropical Storm Debbie.

This year's totals were a result of a more consistent rainfall, said weather service meteorologist Daniel Noah.

A persistent southeast flow pushed showers in from the Atlantic in the morning. Eventually they collided with sea breezes off the Gulf of Mexico, bringing afternoon rains, Noah said.

"And then that happened day after day after day," Noah said.

Stream and lake levels are markedly higher than in the spring, said Steven DeSmith, a geologist with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "Just about everything has improved," DeSmith said.

Florida relies on rainy season accumulation for everything from drinking water, much of which is drawn from natural aquifers, to the flow of rivers and streams.

Aquifer levels this week are within a normal range, and within inches of where they were at this time last year, according to Swiftmud officials.

During the dry season, which begins in October and runs through May, Florida frequently runs the risk of sliding back into a pattern of drought.

That's why Swiftmud recommends year-round water conservation measures, and, if the dry season is severe, cities and counties add more stringent conditions.

Most communities in west-central Florida are under some sort of water restrictions.

Pasco County, where watering is restricted to once a week, has retained some form of restriction for more than a decade, said county environmental biologist Jeff Harris.

Claire Wiseman can be reached at (727)-893-8804 or cwiseman@tampabay.com. On Twitter: @clairelwiseman.

Above-normal rainy season raises bay area water levels 10/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 11, 2013 9:10pm]
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