Now we have a name for what causes that slimy gunk that squishes between your toes if you wade in Old Tampa Bay: "urban slobber." ¶ That's what Ed Sherwood, a scientist with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, calls the polluted stormwater runoff that flows into shallow Old Tampa Bay from the densely developed areas that hug the shoreline.
Old Tampa Bay is the portion of the bay north of the Courtney Campbell Parkway that does not receive the same flushing action as lower areas of Tampa Bay. When it rains, the runoff is full of fertilizer used on lawns and golf courses, sediment, oil, chemicals and other pollutants, and it runs into Old Tampa Bay unless it is diverted.
Much effort has been expended in the last couple of years to clean up Tampa Bay, and for much of the bay, the news is good. Seagrass beds are slowly recovering because the water is cleaner.
But for Old Tampa Bay, the news is not as good. Water quality in Old Tampa Bay declined last year. If the water is not clear enough, seagrasses, which help the bay clean itself, cannot grow.
Fortunately, a study to determine the composition of the bottom muck and the sources of the "urban slobber" was launched last fall in a portion of Old Tampa Bay. The yearlong study of the basin called Safety Harbor is a joint effort of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, with funding also contributed by local governments in the areas that border the bay.
Once the answers are in hand, solutions can be discussed. Governments may bear the biggest burden if stormwater runoff is the problem and must be diverted and treated before it goes into the bay. New standards, such as a fertilizer ordinance now under discussion at the county level, may have to be implemented, too. However, individuals can do their part by minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides on their lawns, properly disposing of household chemicals, and repairing fluid leaks on their vehicles.
In the long run, saving Old Tampa Bay will have to be a communitywide effort.