In the Tampa Bay region of Florida, extreme levels of annual and seasonal rainfall are often associated with tropical cyclones and strong El Nino episodes. We used stepwise multiple regression models to describe associations between annual and seasonal rainfall levels and annual, bay-segment mean water clarity (as Secchi depth [m]), chlorophylla (μg I−1), color (pcu), and turbidity (ntu) over a 20-yr period (1985–2004) during which estimated nutrient loadings have been dominated by non-point sources. For most bay segments, variations in annual mean water clarity were associated with variations in chlorophylla concentrations, which were associated in turn with annual or seasonal rainfall. In two bay segments these associations with annual rainfall were superimposed on significant long-term declining trends in chlorophylla. Color was significantly associated with annual rainfall in all bay segments, and in one segment variations in color were the best predictors of variations in water clarity. Turbidity showed a declining trend over time in all bay segments and no association with annual rainfall, and was significantly associated with variations in water clarity in only one bay segment. While chlorophylla, color, and turbidity a affected water clarity to varying degrees, the effects of extreme rainfall events (El Nino events in 1998 and 2003, and multiple tropical cyclone events in 2004) on water clarity were relatively short-lived, persisting for periods of months rather than years. During the 20-yr period addressed in these analyses, declining temporal trends in chlorophylla and turbidity, produced in part by a long-term watershed management program that has focused on curtailing annual loadings of nitrogen and other pollutants, may have helped to prevent the bay as a whole from responding more adversely to the high rainfall periods that occurred in 1998 and 2003–2004.

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