Jerry Mallams is the operations and land management bureau chief for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Here are his answers to some frequently asked questions:
What does the District do to prepare for hurricane season?
Year-round, the District operates 81 water-control structures — the movable gates of a dam — in its 16-county area. These structures help with flood protection, manage lake water levels and prevent saltwater from flowing up freshwater streams and creeks. To prepare for hurricane season, staff member conduct annual readiness checks of all the District’s structures to ensure they are working properly. This includes making sure all gates are functioning correctly and that each emergency generator is working and fully fueled.
What is a critical structure?
Some of our flood control structures are considered critical structures, such as the structures associated with the Tampa Bypass Canal facility. This facility routes flood water from the Hillsborough River around the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace, providing protection from river flooding. Used in 2004 during Hurricane Jeanne, the canal system diverted more than 200 billion gallons of water, sparing homes and businesses along the lower Hillsborough River from flooding. Due to the important flood protection role these structures play, the annual hurricane readiness checks are critical.
How are the structures operated?
All of the Tampa Bypass Canal structures, along with many other District structures, are equipped with remote control capability that allows staff members to open and close gates as appropriate to assist with flood protection.
What actions does the District take during an active storm threat?
During an active storm threat, District officials activate its emergency operations center to monitor tropical storms and hurricanes. Depending on the level of activation, the District will mobilize appropriate emergency personnel to report to the center for extended shifts. Staff members monitor and document water levels and operate water control structures on water bodies throughout the District, as needed. District officials will communicate directly with the state and county emergency operations centers and distribute information to the media, the public and District employees.
Jerry Mallams is a licensed professional geologist in Florida and has worked for the Southwest Florida Water Management District for 23 years. He manages the 81 District-owned flood control and water conservation structures and canal rights of way within the 16-county area and the maintenance and management of 452,000 acres of District conservation lands.