NewsHillsborough County


Inside look at the Tampa Bypass Canal System ahead of hurricane season

Tampa hurricane canals
Posted at 4:45 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 05:34:28-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Here in the Tampa Bay area, systems are in place to respond to heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms that could threaten our area. And with hurricane season less than two weeks away, the systems take on an even larger position of importance.

The group behind the systems gave ABC Action News a look at flood control structure 160 along the Tampa Bypass Canal Tuesday.

“This is part of the largest flood control infrastructure in west central Florida,” said Jerry Mallams, the Operations Bureau Chief for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “This structure is the last in a series of structures on this canal.”

The Tampa Bypass Canal System was constructed in response to massive flooding caused by Hurricane Donna in 1960 and is made up of three elements: the Hillsborough Flood Detention Reservoir, the Tampa Bypass Canal, and the Harney Canal. Mallams said that more than 17 billion gallons of floodwater a day could run through structure 160.

Tampa Hurricane Canals

“There was an activation prior to and during Hurricane Irma, and we were moving three billion gallons of water a day through this structure,” said Mallams. “So if that water was moving through the Hillsborough River and through the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace, that river would have came out of its banks and created a lot of river flooding in those urban areas.”

Mallams described how the system works.

“Approximately 10 miles north of here, the Water Management District owns a six and a half-mile long dam. Behind that dam, there’s a 26-square-mile reservoir that remains empty. The river flows unimpeded through that dam and through the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace under normal circumstances,” said Mallams. “During a high rain event such as a hurricane, the Water Management District is able to close the flood control structure that straddles the Hillsborough River.”

Mallams said at that point in time, the river water begins to fill that empty reservoir, and then they’re able to move water from that reservoir safely around the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace and out to McKay Bay.

“Each year, the Water Management District assesses and verifies each structure is fully operational and ready for the hurricane season,” said Mallams. “It’s a big part of the Water Management District’s pre-hurricane season preparedness activities.”