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Health of Hillsborough River in Tampa is improving

Twenty years ago, the Hillsborough River that runs through the heart of Tampa was severely damaged. Withdrawals for the city’s growing population had starved it of fresh water, making it unfriendly to wildlife.

But thanks to a recovery plan developed in 2007 by environmental groups, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the City of Tampa and others, that’s changed.

Phil Compton is a local organizer for the Sierra Club and co-founded Friends of the River in 1999 to rally support for the Hillsborough River.

“In the last 12 years we’ve seen a lot of the fish and wildlife come back,” he said. “So you see you have the conditions for the little fish, the anchovies and then you see the bigger fish like snook and dolphins coming upriver now, which we didn’t used to see here.”

The river recovery plan that improved the environment for fish and birds and other wildlife requires releasing water into the river from a variety of sources to maintain minimum flows. It also requires the Water Management District to review the status of the river every five years for 15 years. The second five-year review is set to be filed with the District Board on Tuesday.

River advocates say the river still needs more fresh water.