By Cathy Salustri
Calypso may be one of the few dachshunds in the world who not only has her own life jacket, but has one because she thinks nothing of jumping off my kayak or paddleboard if something in the water strikes her fancy. She’s gotten pretty adept at hoisting herself up on a paddleboard, too–no small feat for a dog with two-inch legs.
We’ve been spending more than our fair share of time out on the water lately (thank you, Florida spring time!) and Calypso’s become something of a paddleboard pro. She knows to crouch down when a wave (such that they are this side of the state) comes towards us on the board, and she has learned the hard way to stay very, very still when I’m getting into the kayak.
Of course, there are some places where I expressly forbid Calypso to go. Despite the look of heartbreak she gives me, Calypso can’t paddle out to Shell Key anymore because the laws changed. I won’t bring her to the Hillsborough River because the idea of her going snout-to-snout with one of the Hillsborough’s Jurassic-sized gators opens up giant holes in my stomach.
Oh, and Tampa Bay. My dog isn’t allowed to swim in upper Tampa Bay. The other day we went to Simmons park by the TECO power plant. Calypso and I meandered down to the water, but when she started to go in the water, I stopped her. I didn’t want my dog in that water.
See, I know that the only reason that body of water “complies” with current nitrogen standards is because cities like Gulfport bring down the average level of nitrogen by participating in the Nitrogen Management Consortium. By using Gulfport and other cities to help bring down the average amount of nitrogen in area waters, the consortium’s cheating. Perhaps it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it moral. After all, it used to be legal to own another person, but that didn’t make it right.
Gulfport’s runoff drains into Boca Ciega Bay and Clam Bayou, not Tampa Bay. Those are two different watersheds. Think of a watershed as a large bowl with your neighborhood in it. When it rains, the rain goes into the bowl. It can run around the houses and over parking lots and into lakes, bays and rivers, but it doesn’t leave the bowl.
Gulfport is in the Boca Ciega Bay bowl. Water from the TECO power plant and other industries in that area of Hillsborough goes into the Tampa Bay bowl. They’re separate bowls, but for some reason the government allows the lower nitrogen in the Boca Ciega Bay bowl to average out the higher nitrogen in the Tampa Bay bowl.
Sound like shaky science? It does to me, too. Here’s the kicker: Gulfport paid $6000 last year to stay in the consortium that uses this Voldemort-like wizardry to arrive at these numbers. That’s right, the city used your tax dollars to allow industry to continue to dump nitrogen in the water. Council woman Jennifer Salmon objected at the time, but the rest of council essentially patted her on the head and told her “the grown ups are talking now.” Two weeks ago councilman Sam Henderson expressed concerns as well; hopefully, these two voices will force the rest of council to address about how questionable this move appears to the rest of us.
I can’t find any real danger in letting Calypso swim in water that has too much nitrogen, not really. From what I’ve read, nitrogen damages plant life and smaller organisms in the water because it causes algae blooms. It’s not like Calypso’s going to get splashed by the water and grow a ninth nipple or something.
So why won’t I let a dog who, when left to her own devices attempts to treat the cat box as her personal refrigerator, swim in Tampa Bay? Well, this whole consortium thing started me wondering: if the government allows that kind of fact gerrymandering with one contaminant, how do I know they don’t allow it with other more direct threats to our health and well-being?
Then I realized: I don’t.