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May 2024

Understanding Tampa Water Quality and Water Use Restrictions

Key Takeaways

  • Tampa, FL gets most of its water from the Hillsborough River and maintains a backup supply in an underground aquifer.
  • Since the tap water is relatively hard, residents may benefit from using a water softener to remove dissolved minerals.
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies several contaminants of concern in Tampa’s water, although their levels are within EPA guidelines.
  • Because of low water levels, the City of Tampa has water restrictions in place and the “wasteful use of water” is prohibited.

As Florida’s third-largest city and a popular tourist destination, the City of Tampa needs to supply 79 million gallons of safe drinking water to over 700,000 residents of the city and parts of Hillsborough County. With over 211 square miles to cover, it’s natural to wonder how well the Tampa Water Department ensures Tampa water quality.

Although Tampa’s drinking water system meets the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.gov), residents with water quality concerns may want to learn more about specific concentrations of contaminants in the Tampa Bay Region.

Here’s what you need to know about Tampa water quality, including where the water comes from, how it’s treated, and whether or not you should filter it at home.

Where Does Tampa’s Tap Water Come From?

The City of Tampa’s water comes from a few different sources. The Hillsborough River is the main water source, supplying 98.24% of its water. It originates in a 560,000-acre natural area consisting of marshes and forests known as the Green Swamp.

The Tampa Water Department also maintains an underground aquifer that can store up to 1.2 billion gallons of treated water to use when the river water is low.

Finally, the City of Tampa gets around 1.76% of its water from Tampa Bay Water (TBW), a wholesale supplier that provides water to several cities and counties, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County.

TBW gets its source water from three different sources:

  • Groundwater from the Floridan Aquifer
  • Surface water from the Hillsborough River and other rivers
  • Seawater from the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant

Although residents of the City of Tampa will only get a small portion of their tap water from water sources, residents of the surrounding areas may get more.

Is the Water Hard or Soft in Tampa, FL?

Tampa’s water quality is considered hard because it has around 186 milligrams per liter, or 10.9 grains per gallon, of dissolved minerals. Hard water isn’t a health concern — in fact, having essential minerals like magnesium in your water is actually good for you!

However, the high mineral content of hard water can impact its taste, leave residue on clothes or in the sink, and even worsen skin conditions like eczema.

Homeowners in Tampa may benefit from installing a water softener to remove total dissolved solids (TDS) from the water and improve its color and taste.

How Is Tampa’s Drinking Water Treated?

The Tampa Water Department uses a multi-step process to disinfect the water supply and deliver clean water to residents. Here’s a brief description of each step:

  • Screening: First, the water is pumped out of the Hillsborough River and passed through screens to remove plants, fish, and other debris. At this point, the water is “tea-colored” because of the organic matter it contains.
  • Coagulation: At the water treatment plant, the water department adds sulphuric acid and ferric sulfate to cause smaller particles to stick together.
  • Flocculation: Next, they add polymers to create even larger clumps of particles called “flocs.”
  • Sedimentation: The heavy particles fall to the bottom of the tank as sediment, where they can be removed more easily, leaving clear water behind.
  • Disinfection: The primary disinfection process uses ozone gas (and sometimes hydrogen peroxide) to kill viruses and bacteria.
  • Filtration: Activated carbon filters are used to filter out any additional particles.
  • Corrosion control: TWD adds lime and caustic soda, which stabilizes the pH of the water and reduces corrosion in the distribution system.
  • Secondary disinfection: The water is disinfected once more with chlorine and ammonia to kill any remaining microorganisms.
  • Fluoridation: Finally, the water department adds fluoride to the water to prevent tooth decay.

Tampa’s Drinking Water Contaminants Concern

What Contaminants Are Found In Tampa’s Drinking Water?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national standards for drinking water to ensure that concentrations of contaminants don’t exceed safe levels. It also requires water utilities to release an annual water quality report describing their water treatment process and what steps they’re taking to monitor water contamination.

Although Tampa’s 2022 Annual Water Quality Report doesn’t report any EPA violations, it did identify “13 potential sources of contamination in the vicinity of our system with susceptibility levels ranging from low to high.”

Additionally, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies six contaminants that exceed their own health guidelines, which are stricter than those of the EPA.

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) are disinfection byproducts that are associated with an increased cancer risk. These include chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane. Although Tampa’s water meets the EPA’s legal limit, it exceeds the EWG’s recommended maximum by 122 times:

  • EPA maximum allowance: 80 parts per billion (ppb)
  • EWG recommended maximum: 0.15 ppb
  • Tampa maximum contaminant level: 18.3 ppb

Haloacetic acids (HAA5)

Haloacetic acids (HAA5) are also disinfection byproducts associated with cancer and harm to fetal growth. Tampa’s water quality meets the EPA’s guidelines but has 134 times more HAA5 than the EWG’s recommended limit:

  • EPA maximum allowance: 60 ppb
  • EWG recommended maximum: 0.1 ppb
  • Tampa maximum contaminant level: 13.4 ppb

There’s an additional group of haloacetic acids (HAA) for which there is no legal limit, and Tampa’s level is 254 times higher than the EWG’s recommended limit.

Chromium (hexavalent)

Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is a known carcinogen that’s more dangerous than other forms of chromium. In fact, it’s the same chemical Erin Brockovich fought to address in Hinckley, California — and there’s still no legal limit.

The EWG recommends a maximum of 0.02 parts per billion, which Tampa’s tap water exceeds by 3.8 times:

  • EPA maximum allowance: No legal limit
  • EWG recommended maximum: 0.02 ppb
  • Tampa maximum detected level: 0.0769 ppb

Arsenic

Arsenic is a heavy metal that can cause arsenicosis if it’s allowed to build up in the body over long periods of time. Although low levels of arsenic occur naturally, it can end up in the water supply through pollution from agricultural runoff and industrial uses.

The legal limit for arsenic is 10 parts per billion, and Tampa’s tap water comes close at 0.794 ppb. That’s still 198 times higher than the EWG’s recommendation:

  • EPA maximum allowance: 10 ppb
  • EWG recommended maximum: 0.004 ppb
  • Tampa maximum detected level: 0.794 ppb

Radium

Radium is a radioactive element that can get into the water supply from natural sources as well as runoff from wastewater treatment plants. It’s measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L), and it can cause lung, bone, and other cancers at high doses.

Tampa’s water supply contains 0.77 pCi/L of radium, less than the EPA’s maximum but 15 times the EWG’s guideline:

  • EPA maximum allowance: 5 pCi/L
  • EWG recommended maximum: 0.05 pCi/L
  • Tampa maximum detected level: 0.77 pCi/L

Tamp Florida City Downtown Park

Does Tampa Drinking Water Contain Forever Chemicals?

Heavy metals and disinfection byproducts aren’t the only contaminants to be concerned about. The EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) requires utilities to test for chemicals that don’t yet have a legal limit. These include forever chemicals like PFAS and PFOA, which are associated with cancer and other health problems.

The Tampa Water Department complies with these requirements, and they tested for 29 different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in 2023. According to an NPR report, they found “slightly elevated levels of two of six PFAS in its drinking water supplies.”

The good news is that Tampa is developing a system to reduce PFAS levels by filtering more organic matter from its source water — which will save money and improve water quality overall. In the meantime, Tampa residents concerned about PFAS can use a reverse osmosis filter to remove forever chemicals from their drinking water.

Which Water Filters Will Improve Tampa Water Quality?

Home water filters can be a great way to remove contaminants from your tap water, but it’s important to choose the right type of filter for your water system.

If your primary goal is to remove disinfection byproducts like chlorine, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and improve the taste of your water, then activated carbon filters can be a good choice. These filters use a dense carbon filter to absorb unwanted chemicals and other contaminants from your drinking water.

If you’re more concerned about PFAS or want to remove total dissolved solids (TDS) from the water to reduce its mineral content, consider a reverse osmosis filter. These filters are more expensive but are more effective at removing forever chemicals.

Does Tampa Have Restrictions on Water Use?

Yes, the City of Tampa has had water use restrictions since 1992, although they may change during the year depending on rainfall and drought conditions.

As of December 1, 2023, residents are restricted to irrigating their lawns once per week, with their allotted watering day determined by the final digit of their address. Residents are also prohibited from “wasteful use of water,” with fines of up to $500.

Woman Pours Fresh Glasses of Water Filtered

Is the Tap Water in Tampa Safe to Drink?

The tap water in Tampa is thoroughly treated to meet national standards and is tested regularly to ensure it contains low levels of contaminants. However, Tampa’s tap water is considered to be “hard” water, which can affect its taste and appearance.

Some residents may be concerned about disinfection byproducts, forever chemicals like PFAS, and heavy metals like arsenic. You can check the annual water quality report or view the test results from unregulated contaminant monitoring to see how Tampa’s waste quality compares to other American cities.

If in doubt, you can always test your tap water yourself to see if any contaminants of concern are making their way to your faucet.

Install a water filter like the HomeWater 4-Stage Reverse Osmosis Under Counter Water Filter to filter out radium, chromium, lead, chlorine, and more.

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