By Jerry L. Mallams, P.G., Operations Bureau Chief Southwest Florida Water Management District
With hurricane season approaching, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is preparing for a heightened risk of severe rain events, flooding and storm damage. Jerry Mallams, operations bureau chief, explained how the district works to prepare for the storm season by minimizing flood risks throughout the 16-county region.
Q: What does the district do to prepare for hurricane season?
A: Year-round, the district operates 85 water control structures in its 16-county area. These structures assist with flood protection, manage lake water levels and prevent saltwater from flowing up freshwater streams and creeks. To prepare for hurricane season, staff conduct annual hurricane readiness checks of all the district’s structures to ensure they are working properly. This includes making certain all structure gates are functioning correctly and that each emergency generator is working and fully fueled.
Q: What is a critical structure?
A: Some of our flood control structures are considered critical structures, such as the structures associated with the Tampa Bypass Canal System. This system routes floodwater from the Hillsborough River around the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace, providing protection from river flooding. Used in 2004 during Hurricane Jeanne, the canal system diverted more than 200 billion gallons of water, sparing homes and businesses along the lower Hillsborough River from flooding. Due to their important flood protection role, these structures are considered critical structures.
Q: What actions does the district take during an active storm threat?
A: During an active storm threat, district officials activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to monitor tropical storms and hurricanes. Depending on the level of activation, the district will mobilize appropriate emergency personnel to report to the EOC for extended shifts. Staff will monitor and document water levels and operate water control structures on water bodies throughout the district’s 16-county area as needed. EOC officials will maintain direct communications with the state and affected county EOCs and distribute information to the media, public and district employees.