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Here’s where your Tampa Bay drinking water comes from

The utility company Tampa Bay Water is the provider for most of the region, but the municipalities and counties have different treatment processes.
Tap water flows into a sink in Pinellas Park on May 4, 2023. Tampa Bay Water is the provider for most of the region, but the municipalities and counties have different treatment processes.
Tap water flows into a sink in Pinellas Park on May 4, 2023. Tampa Bay Water is the provider for most of the region, but the municipalities and counties have different treatment processes. [ Carly Thompson ]
Published May 8

If you’ve ever wondered why your tap water tastes different than your friend’s across the bay, we have the answer. The water comes from the same sources, but the cities and counties around Tampa Bay have different treatment processes and combinations of source water.

Tampa Bay Water, a wholesale regional utility, provides drinking water to Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, plus Tampa, St. Petersburg and New Port Richey.

The utility uses a blend of three sources to provide water to the region. Groundwater that comes from the Floridan Aquifer; surface water from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal; and desalinated water from Tampa Bay most likely make up your tap water. Surplus surface water goes into the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in Hillsborough County and is used during dry times.

The water is treated through a specific process depending on if it’s seawater, groundwater or surface water, said Tampa Bay Water public communications manager Brandon Moore. It’s then distributed to the member governments.

The mix of the three water sources could be slightly different depending on where it’s distributed, and each source has different mineral content, Moore said. The member systems also do additional treatment to the water. Both of which could potentially impact how tap water tastes.

“Bottom line, I think most people wouldn’t notice a difference,” he said.

Drinking tap water through a filter system, like a Brita, could improve the taste, but the tap water is safe to drink without a filtering system, the 2021 Hillsborough County annual consumer quality reports say.

While Tampa Bay Water distributes water to most of the region, some cities own their water utilities systems.

The city of Clearwater manages and supplies its own water utilities. Clearwater’s main source of drinking water is from wellfields it operates that draw from the Floridan Aquifer. The city purchases water from Pinellas County to provide for the rest of its daily demand.

Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar, Belleair and Plant City also manage and supply their own water utilities.

Clearwater uses reverse osmosis to treat a majority of its water and then adds pre-treated filtered water to create a mix, said Fred Hemerick, public utilities manager for water production. The water gets disinfected with chlorine or chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, and then a corrosion inhibitor is added.

“It can be easy to think that if you’re living in Clearwater and [some areas of] Pinellas County that you’re getting Tampa Bay Water, but you’re not,” Hemerick said.

Twice a year, Clearwater and Pinellas County will switch from using chloramines to treat their water to using chlorine, he said. They do this to flush out any ammonia build-up in the distribution pipes.

Tampa Bay Water, Tampa, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Pasco County also disinfect their water with chloramines. Plant City disinfects its water with chlorine.

St. Petersburg, Tampa, Plant City and Pinellas County add fluoride to their treated tap water to benefit dental health.

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Hillsborough County has 10 community public water systems, some of which get water from Tampa and Plant City, that distribute drinking water. Some of the systems use chlorine to disinfect the water and others use chloramines, the disinfecting process depends on the make-up of water sources for the area. A few systems also use fluoride to treat their water.

Hemerick said the biggest impact to taste and odor of the water would be the disinfectants. If you’re drinking tap water without using a filter system in Clearwater, you might smell chlorine, but it’s nothing to be scared of, he said.

Moore, from Tampa Bay Water, said a number of things can impact how tap water tastes, but it’s all high quality and meets or exceeds the state and federal standards.

“I think it’s important for people to know where their water comes from,” he said. “If you know where it comes from, you’re more likely to know how to protect it and potentially conserve it.”

We did a blind taste test of tap water from Tampa Heights, New Tampa, Temple Terrace, east Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.

Watch our video to see which water we decided had the best taste.