USF researchers secure $1.5 million federal grant to improve water quality and reduce runoff into Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico

Through a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a research team from the University of South Florida will install 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, rainwater washes pollutants, such as fertilizer, oil, animal waste and rotting vegetation into gutters, which feeds into existing stormwater ponds, which are often full of trash and difficult to clean due to restrictive fencing and steep slopes.

If the 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.

The USF team is collaborating with Mary Lusk, a University of Florida expert in stormwater ponds and their functions, to redesign the pond with the Hillsborough County Engineering and Operations Department. The plan is to plant bio-infiltration systems with shrubs and bushes, along the steep slopes, to provide additional filtration and make the pond more visually appealing.

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