March 2018 – One of the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board’s roles is to educate the public on the context and history of the river as a major environmental and community asset. The “middle river” through Temple Terrace and into the City of Tampa didn’t always include a dam, and that dam wasn’t always used for water supply. During much of the 1800s, the Hillsborough River existed in a natural wild state. In 1886, the first electric street car in Tampa is built. With the advent of the electric light bulb and electric street cars, Consumers Electric Company built the dam on the middle river between 1896-1897 to generate electricity to power these innovations.
Consumers Electric became embroiled in a controversy with cattlemen after the company built the 2,500-kilowatt hydroelectric plant and a dam across the Hillsborough River. The dam flooded several hundred acres of land previously used for grazing. The dam was blown up with dynamite in 1898, a year after it was completed. Despite suspicions about who was responsible for the dam’s destruction, the crime was never prosecuted.
Lacking the funds to finance the rebuilding of the dam, Consumers Electric sold its system to the newly founded Tampa Electric company. The dam, rebuilt in 1899, generated electricity until high water from a hurricane disabled the dam and facility in 1933. Meanwhile, the City of Tampa entered the water business in 1923 and was using water behind dam by 1926. In 1944, the City purchased the dam from Tampa Electric and completed a dam expansion in 1945. Since then, the middle river’s impounded water behind the dam has been the primary source of potable water supply for City of Tampa’s citizens. When water is too low in this impoundment to capture for supply, the City of Tampa purchases wholesale potable water from the Tampa Bay Water regional water wholesale agency.