Largo officials have committed to improving their wastewater system in a settlement with environmentalists who sued over concerns about the city polluting Tampa Bay.
The agreement aims to reduce the amount of contaminants, including nitrogen, released from the city to Old Tampa Bay around Feather Sound. Nitrogen is a nutrient that in excess can fuel algal blooms damaging to seagrass beds — a crucial part of the estuary.
City officials are vowing to upgrade treatment systems, including a $53 million project at a local plant, and to make fixes that limit sewer overflows. Some work was planned before but could be accelerated or expanded under the settlement.
“They had the mindset that they wanted to address all of these issues, but I think this helped push them to faster time frames, more comprehensive approaches,” said Justin Bloom, founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper, one of the advocacy organizations that brought the suit. The others were Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, of which Bloom is also a board member, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation. They accused the city of violating the Clean Water Act by discharging contaminated water.
Largo “remains committed to improving water quality in the local area” and to fixing its wastewater system to adhere to a consent order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said city manager Henry Schubert, in a statement.
Advocates brought similar cases before over sewage overflows and contaminated discharges in St. Petersburg, Gulfport and Sarasota County.
Water quality has generally improved in recent decades across Tampa Bay, though Old Tampa Bay has recently lagged compared to other areas, according to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has a working group focused on the issue.
As part of the agreement, Largo will pay $100,000 to the Estuary Program for work on restoration as well as monitoring and lowering nutrient levels in Old Tampa Bay. Bloom said the money is in lieu of potential civil penalties that could have gone to the U.S. Treasury had environmentalists won in court.