NASA grant lets Tampa Bay Water and partners use space agency data in planning

The intake/outflow tower of the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir is seen in this aerial drone photo on June 5, 2018, in Lithia. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
The intake/outflow tower of the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir is seen in this aerial drone photo on June 5, 2018, in Lithia. (CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published May 13, 2019

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has awarded a $1.7 million grant to Tampa Bay Water and other water-related organizations in Florida to adapt NASA satellite products for use in planning by utilities.

Tampa Bay Water, the wholesale water supply utility for the Tampa Bay region, is expected to use the NASA data as part of its decision-making on allocating water resources, such as the use of a 15.5-billion-gallon reservoir in Hillsborough County.

And the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, which serves a similar role in the Sarasota region, would do the same for the operations of its aquifer storage and recovery wells, according to a news release by the University of Florida.

The grant recipients are all members of the Florida Water and Climate Alliance, co-founded by Tampa Bay Water. The alliance has been working for more than a decade with the University of Florida's Water Institute and Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies to use good science in making water-supply decisions.

NASA will provide the utilities with real-time monitoring and forecasting information. Then the alliance members will work to customize seasonal climate forecasts and monitoring tools in order to anticipate variations in the forthcoming seasons for peninsular Florida, and use that to predict water supply and water demand for the coming months.

Tampa Bay Water, the state's largest wholesale utility, uses a mix of groundwater and other sources to supply its 2 million users. Its $140 million reservoir — the largest in Florida — opened in June 2005 as a place to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. Meanwhile its $158 million desalination plant, the largest in the nation, opened in 2008.

The reservoir was plagued by cracks, and the desalination plant started five years late and cost $40 million more than expected. However, both proved their worth in 2017 when a widespread drought meant using far less groundwater.

The Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority fills a similar role for the region south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, providing more than 28 million gallons of water a day to customers in Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. It scoops water off the Peace River and stores it in a pair of reservoirs and also in an aquifer storage and recovery system of 21 wells that holds 6 billion gallons underground.

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.