Oxygen shortage could have long-term impacts on Tampa water system

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing another shortage. So much oxygen is needed for hospital patients that it’s putting liquid oxygen in short supply.

The city of Tampa normally uses oxygen to make ozone for water treatment. Right now, the city is out of liquid oxygen and it’s not clear when more will arrive.

"We do have a backup system, using free chlorine, which is working well," offered Chuck Weber, director of the City of Tampa Water Department. "We’ve been on that system since last week, due to the shortage of liquid oxygen. We can remain on the system for a while, but not indefinitely."

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The city water system serves around 700,000 people. Much of the water supply comes from the Hillsborough River.

Weber says seasonal changes in the river could reduce the efficiency of the backup treatment method. He says if the situation persists, Tampa may have to buy water from Tampa Bay Water, the regional wholesaler of water, or impose restrictions.

Weber says he doesn’t know when the supply of liquid oxygen will return.

"I think, it really just depends on hospitals and their demand, which really depends on how things go with COVID patients," continued Weber.

The city began using the backup method of water treatment more these a week ago and Weber said few people noticed a difference.

However, Weber says, customers may notice a difference in the taste and smell of water beginning next Tuesday September 7, when the department conducts a biannual chlorine test of the system.