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Sewage dump may lead to algae blooms, fish kill, lost seagrass, experts say

Expect algae blooms. Seagrass die-off. Fish kills. Dead birds.

Those are some of the environmental consequences that could result from the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that has flowed into Tampa Bay over the past year, according to bay experts.

"The long-term effects, we will not know for several months," warned Holly Greening, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has spent years leading the cleanup of the bay. "We are watching this very carefully."

Peter Clark of Tampa Bay Watch said he hasn't seen any effects yet, and long term the extent will depend on how the bay flushes itself into the Gulf.

The region's ongoing sewage crisis struck just as the waters of Tampa Bay had recovered after decades of waste had been dumped into it. As of last year, there were signs that the bay was the cleanest it had been in 60 years.

That's critical in a tourist-dominated economy. A healthy bay is estimated to generate $22 billion worth of economic activity and is linked to one in every five jobs.

But over the past year — particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine — the bay area's rain-soaked utilities spilled, leaked and dumped an estimated 253 million gallons of sewage into streets and waterways. Much of that ended up in Tampa Bay.