Thursday, December 19, 2019

Tampa Bay Sierra Celebrates River's Restoration with Mayor and Friends

Friends of the River's 20th Annual Holiday Boat Parade on the Hillsborough River in Tampa
Photo by Gary Gibbons, Outings Leader for Holiday Boat Parade
Riverfront resident Mayor Jane Castor applauds boaters 
community spirit, with Tampa Bay Sierra Chair Kent Bailey.
Photo by Marcia Biggs
An especially Floridian way to celebrate the holidays is the illuminated holiday boat parade. Unlike most waterfront events limited to huge yachts, the Tampa Bay Sierra Club holds its holiday boat parade as an Outing, featuring dozens of paddlers and more modest powerboats. It’s a celebration of the restoration of the Lower Hillsborough River’s tidal estuary, a community tradition begun and carried on for 20 years by grassroots ally Friends of the River. Fox13 once again carried an excellent story

Friends of the River organized in December 1999 when a handful of river activists did what no one else could or would – they challenged Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) minimum flow rule that would have forever guaranteed the demise of Tampa Bay’s main estuary. Since the early 1970s, growth in withdrawals for lawn irrigation had eliminated Tampa’s ability to provide any freshwater flow most of the year over the City’s dam 10 miles upriver from downtown. The result was a disastrous decline in the number and variety of fish in the river and bay.

Hillsborough County
Commissioner Kimberly
Overman speaks before riding
in Friends' electric Safety
Boat with her grandson.
Photo by John Ovink
Friends, supported by Tampa Bay Sierra Club, won its challenge against SWFWMD, the City and Nestle, which sells Zephyrhills bottled water from an upriver spring. This was the 1st successful challenge of a Florida water management district minimum flow rule. A daily minimum flow begun in 2007 has substantially restored fish and wildlife populations. Today, Friends and Sierra are reviewing SWFWMD’s 5 year reassessment of the flow strategy, preparing for public engagement on the question of how well the daily flow is now being met, and whether the river needs a bit more fresh water in dry months to fully function as Tampa Bay’s nursery, the place where life begins for one of America’s largest estuaries.

Sunday, December 15, hundreds of residents held parties along the Hillsborough to cheer on dozens of paddlers and boaters as they made their way from Lowry Park to Sulphur Springs, where a community holiday party greeted boaters. Mayor Jane Castor joined Tampa Bay Chair Kent Bailey in sending boaters off upriver to the procession at the Springs park, where residents of a diverse, low income neighborhood welcomed neighbors from across and down the river that flows through Tampa.
Volunteers Liz Taylor & Marcia Biggs collect Sierra Outings 
forms before the big parade. Photo by Gary Gibbons

The Mayor was clearly impressed by the enthusiastic turnout for this celebration of environmental restoration and the River that unites the City’s neighbors. The 20th Annual Holiday Boat Parade was a holiday event with a purpose, and a promise of dedication to this urban river’s continued recovery from decades of abuse and neglect. Once written off as dead, the River is now embraced by Tampa as its thriving heart and soul. As those who love Florida’s other springs and rivers fight to preserve their natural resources, take heart in knowing that, if you organize and persevere, you too can prevail. It’s never too late to bring back the life and vitality of your own waterway.
Photo by Kathy Badloe Hostetler

Photo by Gary Gibbons
Photo by April Sparkles

Photo by Kathy Badloe Hostetler
Photo by April Sparkles

Mayor Jane Castor address Holiday Boat Parade paddlers. Photo by John Ovink
Photo by Gary Gibbons
Phil Compton, for Tampa Bay Sierra Club and
Friends of the River