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During the early 1900s, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County were flourishing and considered an ideal place to live. However, due to the stress placed on the local aquifers saltwater was pulled into the groundwater resources making it unsuitable for public supply., Due to this reduction and loss of local water resources the leaders bought land and drilled wells in Hillsborough and Pasco counties to the east and north.


Lands purchased for water supply development in the 90's.

When levels of freshwater in the ground are lowered, due to droughts or water withdrawals, saltwater can move into the freshwater portions of aquifer. This is called saltwater intrusion. It’s a problem because when freshwater becomes salty, it can’t be used for drinking without expensive treatment. This problem is mainly seen in coastal areas such as Hillsborough County, where the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has declared a portion of the groundwater system the “Most Impacted Area” within its jurisdiction.

Eastern U.S. water law allows us to move water from one place to another.  Florida Statutes tell us that water is a resource of the State. Despite the law, moving water from one area to supply another has caused political, environmental and economic problems. This issue was at the heart of the Tampa Bay Water Wars—is it OK to move water from one community to another, leaving environmental and economic consequences behind? One outcome of the Tampa Bay Water Wars was the “Local Sources First” rule that prevents areas from transporting water from one region to another until it has proven it has efficiently used its own water resources first.


"Politics resolved those issues."

Pick Talley


SWFWMD Basins and Populations


"...we just abide by those and fine tune them as we need for the future."

John Parker

"There is no other major resource that people use that is limited based on political boundaries."

Ed de la Parte

Just one problem—water doesn’t flow according to political boundaries like a county line. The political boundaries were drawn a long-time ago. If the availability of natural resources, like freshwater, was considered while establishing political boundaries the Tampa Bay area might look very different today.

While they have to recognize political boundaries, water managers focus on the connections within a watershed, groundwater basins and drainage basins. Rather than looking at land and water resources as separate, unrelated parts they consider the environmental system to develop management plans. A watershed is the land area that contributes runoff, or surface water flow, to a surface water body like a pond, lake, or river. Every part of Florida’s land surface is located within a watershed. Divides, like high ground or ridges, separate watersheds. Of course, this is Florida so “high ground” can be defined in pretty low terms. Still, because water flows downhill, rain falling on these divides may flow in opposite directions, becoming part of different watersheds. Watersheds do not follow political boundaries.

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Throughout this website, you’ll have the opportunity to play small videos of people who were involved in shaping Tampa Bay’s water policy. They include activists, elected officials, lawyers and experts. All of them were involved in what is called, “Tampa Bay’s Water Wars.” We thought you’d like to hear what they have to say in their own words. We think you’ll appreciate their very different perspectives.

Meet the Experts