MANATEE COUNTY, Fla — A water release that led to algae blooms in nearby waterways over a year ago, is happening again. You may remember the issue at the Piney Point Phosphate Plant just north of us in Manatee County in April of 2021. A leak found in one of the structures holding millions of gallons of toxic water forced crews to release that water into Tampa Bay.
This week, another 4 million gallons of rainwater will be released into Tampa Bay at Piney Point, step officials say is being taken to help close the phosphate plant.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as independent labs, say this is just rainwater and not the toxic water from last year, but Dr. James Douglas, with Florida Gulf Coast University, says that is not a guarantee it wouldn’t cause another algae bloom or red tide event, especially when nutrients get injected into the system.
“So, it is always just a roll of the dice,” said Dr. Douglas. “You don’t exactly know what kind of algae is going to come out when you inject nutrients into the water, but it’s going to be something and it’s going to be ugly.”
Dr. Douglas says the water released in April 2021, was full of nutrients that fed the algae already in Tampa Bay.
“So, when they release it in the Bay it is like injecting a lot of fertilizer into the Bay,” said Dr. Douglas. “So whatever algae are in the Bay, it is going to go crazy when it gets a lot of these extra nutrients.”
Dr. Douglas compared what happened there last year to Lake Okeechobee water releases we have seen flow into the Caloosahatchee River, but he says what happened at Piney Point was even worse.
“It’s much richer in fertilizer, even more so than Lake Okeechobee water,” said Dr. Douglas. “So, it’s not as huge of amount of water than that comes for Lake Okeechobee, but it is really concentrated in pollution. So even a little bit of that water is bad news for Tampa Bay.”
Dr. Douglas says we should use Piney Point as an example of what we don’t want to happen here in Southwest Florida. He adds there are polluted local ponds here and we need to look into ways to make sure that pollution doesn’t get into our water system.
“That means taking a look at ponds and other storage around here in Southwest Florida and trying to clean up pollution in them before a big rain event or a hurricane comes and causes that to rush into our coastal waters,” adds Dr. Douglas.
Dr. Douglas says what has happened at Piney Point is unfortunate for Tampa Bay and is a step back after progress to improve the water quality there.
“They have had more clear water and sea grass coming back,” said Dr. Douglas. “It’s really sad that they have had this huge setback in what overall has been one of Florida’s success stories of environmental restoration.”
As of now, the Piney Point Plant is expected to be fully closed in the December of 2024.