MANATEE CO., Fla. — It is a situation that is becoming more pressing by the second.
A leak at Piney Point, the abandoned phosphate plant in Tampa Bay, threatening to cause a breach with the potential of unleashing hazardous water. Officials are concerned that the leak could give way, causing a rush of toxic pollutants to discharge into Tampa Bay.
The result could be devastating to both our ecosystem and economy.
“Those type of water quality issues, ultimately, affect us all and water quality is probably the number one most important issue to the state of Florida," says Captain Chris Wittman, co-founder of Captains For Clean Water. The local group is a non-profit, advocating for clean water and healthy estuaries across Florida.
After the recent State of Emergency issued for Manatee County by Governor Ron DeSantis, experts are reeling over the possibility of an environmental disaster. Hazardous water threatening to be unleashed, not only across Tampa Bay, but other major waterways in our state. It’s a situation that Wittman is all too familiar with.
“It can spur algae blooms, it can enhance or make red tide blooms worse and all of that- as we’ve seen before- has devastating effects on not only the ecology of our water, but also the local economies that are affected by water quality,” says Wittman.
The water within the Piney Point Reservoir has high levels of nutrients- such as phosphorus, nitrogen and ammonia. The exact ingredients those algae blooms feed off of. Whether or not that specific water reaches our shores remains to be seen.
“We’ve seen red tide blooms that have exploded because of nutrient sources in one area that then migrate with wind and currents to another area," said Wittman. "We know that red tide has the ability to feed off of nutrients that are available to it in the water and this would certainly fall into that category.”
The red tide, according to Wittman, has the potential of killing marine life by affecting the respiratory system in mammals such as dolphins, manatees and humans. It’s a scenario that isn’t too far off from one seen before.
Says Wittman, “We saw the devastating effects of a massive red tide bloom, coupled with blue green algae from Okeechobee in 2018 that just on Sanibel and Captiva Islands resulted in a $47 million economic impact over six months.”
It all comes back to water quality issues, as Wittman says. In order to avoid another disaster, a solution needs to take place sooner rather than later.
“We need people to really be vocal on the importance of water quality issues," Wittman said. "Hold our policy makers and representatives accountable to make decisions in the best interest of their constituents. We need much more significant legislation out of the state and the only way we’re going to get that is by the public becoming more involved.”
Meanwhile- crews are continuing to remove millions of gallons of water from the reservoir. Public officials say they will soon begin addressing the environmental impact of the breach and hope to implement a permanent solution.
You can find more information about Captains For Clean Water online right here.