Manatee Snacks and Water Hacks

You may already know about our beloved Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, next to our Big Bend power plant. 

It’s a designated manatee sanctuary and a bit of an elite day spa for the gentle giants.

Comfy warm water flows into the bay after it cools the power station. There’s an abundance of seagrass snacks to munch on nearby. It’s no surprise that hundreds of manatees travel there in winter months to stay warm, eat (a lot) and be admired (a lot) by visitors.

Miles away at our Polk County power station there are no manatees or adoring crowds. But there’s still a need for water to cool the station.

You might be wondering: What’s the connection between manatees lounging and feeding in Apollo Beach and a power station in Polk County? 

Stick around just a little longer. 

Years ago, we needed to expand our Polk Power Station to keep up with growth. But a bigger station needs more water to cool it. Where could that water come from without depleting groundwater?

Enter some of Tampa Electric’s brightest brains to hatch a plan that would benefit all living creatures – from humans to tiny crabs. And eventually manatees.

Together with the city of Lakeland and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, we embarked on an award-winning project to use the city’s treated wastewater to operate our power station. Later, the city of Mulberry was added. In total, the cities and county provide about 7 million gallons of water a day to the power station via more than 20 miles of pipe.

We built a water purification plant to further treat the water to nearly the quality of drinking water before it’s used for cooling.

The result: millions of gallons of excess wastewater that would otherwise be dumped into the Alafia River and eventually enter Tampa Bay are treated or diverted.

That means less nitrogen in the water of Hillsborough and Tampa bays. Less nitrogen means fewer harmful algal blooms, which helps improve the populations of small fish, crabs and oysters.

Guess what else it helps? 

The growth of seagrass, a manatee’s favorite snack. 

So those happily munching manatees at our Manatee Viewing Center are benefiting from cleaner water that originated all the way over at our Polk County power station.

How cooling is that?