ABSTRACT: Nutrient enrichment in Tampa Bay has caused a decline in water quality in the estuary. Efforts to reduce the nutrient loading to Tampa Bay have resulted in improvements in water quality from 1981 to 1991. However, Tampa Bay still is considered enriched with nutrients. Water quality in East Bay (located at the northeastern part of Hillsborough Bay, which is an embayment in Tampa Bay) is not improving at the same rate as the rest of the bay. East Bay is the center of shipping activity in Tampa Bay and the seventh largest port in the United States. One of the primary cargoes is phosphate ore and related products such as fertilizer. The potential for nutrient loading to East Bay from shipping activities is high and has not previously been measured.
Nitrogen and phosphorus loads from East Bay to Hillsborough Bay were measured during selected time periods during June 1992 through May 1993; these data were used to estimate seasonal and annual loads. These loads were evaluated to determine whether the loss of fertilizer products from shipping activities resulted in increased nutrient loading to Hillsborough Bay. Discharge was measured, and water-quality samples were collected at the head of East Bay (exiting McKay Bay), at the mouth of Delaney Creek (a tributary to East Bay), and at the mouth of East Bay. Discharge and nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations for the period June 1992 through May 1993 were used to compute loads.
Discharges from McKay Bay, Delaney Creek, and East Bay are highly variable because of the effect of tide. Flow patterns during discharge measurements generally were unidirectional in McKay Bay and Delaney Creek, but more complex, bidirectional patterns were observed at the mouth of East Bay. Tidally affected discharge data were digitally filtered with the Godin filter to remove the effects of tide so that residual, or net, discharge could be determined. Daily mean discharge from McKay Bay ranged from -1,900 to 2,420 cubic feet per second; from Delaney Creek, -3.8 to 162 cubic feet per second; and from East Bay, -437 to 3,780 cubic feet per second.
Water quality in McKay Bay, Delaney Creek, and East Bay varies vertically, areally, and seasonally. Specific conductance and concentrations of phosphorus and ammonia nitrogen were greater near the bottom than near the surface at the head and mouth of East Bay. Concentrations of total nitrogen and ammonia plus organic nitrogen generally were greater at the head of East Bay than at the mouth, indicating that McKay Bay is the primary source of nitrogen to East Bay. Concentrations of total ammonia nitrogen, nitrite plus nitrate nitrogen, phosphorus, orthophosphorus, and suspended solids and values of turbidity and specific conductance generally were greater at the mouth of East Bay than at the head. The greatest concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus were measured in Delaney Creek. In East Bay and McKay Bay, the greatest concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia plus organic nitrogen occurred in summer, whereas turbidity, specific conductance, and concentrations of suspended solids were greater in winter.
The greatest daily mean loads from McKay Bay and East Bay occurred in late June 1992 and April and May 1993 and coincided with periods of daily mean discharge greater than about 2,000 cubic feet per second. Although concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus were greater in Delaney Creek than in McKay Bay and East Bay, loads were minimal because of minimal discharges from Delaney Creek.
Monthly loads of total nitrogen ranged from about 20 tons to about 83 tons at McKay Bay; from about 1 ton to 4.2 tons at Delaney Creek; and from about 17 tons to 76 tons at the mouth of East Bay. Monthly loads of phosphorus ranged from about 11 tons to about 45 tons at McKay Bay; from about 0.62 ton to 2.6 tons at Delaney Creek; and from about 10 tons to about 45 tons at the mouth of East Bay.
The results of this study indicate that nitrogen and phosphorus loads from the basin draining directly to East Bay (excluding loads from the McKay Bay and Delaney Creek basins) are minimal. Nitrogen and phosphorus loads from East Bay to Hillsborough Bay largely were the result of loads from McKay Bay and Delaney Creek. Therefore, losses of fertilizer products during shipping activities in East Bay were not a significant source of nitrogen and phosphorus to Hillsborough Bay during the study.