The environmental recovery of Tampa Bay is an exceptional success story for coastal water quality management. Nitrogen loads in the mid 1970s have been estimated at 8.2 million kg/yr, with 5.5 million kg/yr entering the upper bay alone. Reduced water clarity associated with phytoplankton biomass contributed to a dramatic reduction in the areal coverage of seagrass and development of hypoxic events, causing a decline in benthic faunal production. Extensive efforts to reduce nutrient loads to the bay occurred by the late 1970s, with the most notable being improvements in infrastructure for wastewater treatment in 1979. Improvements in water clarity and decreases in chlorophyll concentrations were observed bay-wide in the 1980s, with conditions generally remaining constant to present day.
Tracking changes in environmental condition from the past to present day would not have been possible without a long-term monitoring dataset. Data have been collected monthly by the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) since 1974. Samples are taken at forty-five stations by water collection or monitoring sonde at bottom, mid- or surface depths, depending on parameter. The locations of monitoring stations are fixed and cover the entire bay from the uppermost mesohaline sections to the lowermost euhaline portions that have direct interaction with the Gulf of Mexico.
A critical component of the Tampa Bay success story has been TBEP’s annual water quality report card. This product summarizes the thousands of water quality records from EPCHC to simply convey the status of each bay segment relative to management targets and regulatory thresholds. This report card is hosted here in different formats available from the links on the right. The overall principle is simple. Each bay segment (Old Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, Middle Tampa Bay, Lower Tampa Bay) is assigned a management action for each year based on the measured water quality. Additional details about how the attainment outcomes are estimated can be found in the technical documents linked on the right.
Stay the Course: Continue planned projects. Report data via annual progress reports and Baywide Environmental Monitoring Report.
Caution: Review monitoring data and nitrogen loading estimates. Begin/continue TAC and Management Board development of specific management recommendations.
On Alert: Finalize development and implement appropriate management actions to get back on track.
The report can be viewed as a two-page summary or using the interactive Shiny dashboard. The two-page summary was developed for easy distribution to serve the complementary goals of the TBEP and Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium. The dashboard includes the same information but provides a more immersive and interactive experience with the data. The dashboard also includes options for data download.
Both the summary PDF and dashboard were created in an automated data analysis pipeline shown below. The advantage of this approach is rapid acquisition of data as new information becomes available from EPCHC, automated quality control of raw data, and exposure of the methods for estimating attainment outcomes. All of the source code for generating the report card products are provided on GitHub (), including the tbeptools R package that provides the functions to estimate the results. All of these materials are available for use by TBEP’s partners or any interested parties. Continuous integrations services offered by GitHub Actions () process the data daily and the links to the right reflect the most up to date information. The colored badges indicate if the automated checks processed the data correctly.