Federal grant to fund bio-infiltration project in Hillsborough County stormwater pond
First-of-its-kind approach can be replicated elsewhere to provide more efficient filtration, protect marine environments
TAMPA – An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of South Florida is working to protect the environment by preventing pollution from seeping into a local stormwater pond that flows into Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Through a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the team is installing a bio-infiltration system at Aaran’s Pond in Tampa’s University Area Community, where more than one in three residents live below the federal poverty level.
According to principal investigator Professor Sarina Ergas in the USF Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, when it rains, the water washes pollutants, such as fertilizer, oil, animal waste and rotting vegetation into gutters, which then feed into an existing stormwater pond. For that reason, urban runoff is a challenging problem to address in underserved communities, especially as stormwater ponds are often full of trash and difficult to clean due to restrictive fencing and steep slopes.
“We’re calling them inert zombies due to their lack of life,” Ergas said. “If you look at the difference between a stormwater pond in a wealthy neighborhood and one in a low-income neighborhood – it’s day and night in terms of how they benefit the community.”
If those pollutants are not removed from the ponds, they eventually cascade into the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrients, such as nitrogen, create harmful algal blooms, kill sea grass and reduce oxygen in the water.