PALMETTO, Fla. (WWSB) - It’s as much as a backyard pool, perhaps as much as two of them, filled with wastewater and flushed into the waters of Tampa Bay every minute. Representatives at the State Department of Environmental Protection say they can only stand by and watch.
The DEP says this emergency order was put in place earlier this week because of a reported liner tear at the phosphorous stack in Palmetto at the former phosphate plant on Piney Point. That’s off of U.S. Highway 41 in northwestern Manatee County. The DEP confirms with ABC7 the water is being discharged from the reservoir at Piney Point through a pipe at Port Manatee and out into the bay.
On Wednesday, our team got a closer look with Suncoast Water Keepers at exactly where this water is going and how environmentalists in our area say it affects our ecosystem.
“It’s going to be bad for the ecosystem, it’s going to be bad for the seagrasses, it’s going to be bad for the fish and the oysters, which in turn it’s bad for all of us that live here,” said co-owner of the Lost Coast Oyster Company, Brian Rossegger.
Rossegger harvests oysters just a few short miles from where this contaminated water is being dumped and says he’s concerned.
“The discharge from Piney Point concerns us because of the nutrient-laden water that’s being discharged into our bay. It has the potential to affect our business,” said Rossegger.
He says people’s livelihood and the environment are at stake. “Kind of alarming how easy it is to dump so much polluted water so fast and not see anything as of right now,” said Capt. Dustin Pack with Suncoast Water Keepers.
Going seemingly unnoticed is how Pack described it as we got closer to the discharge area off of Port Manatee on Wednesday afternoon.
“Hopefully it won’t be flowing for long,” said Justin Bloom with Suncoast Water Keepers. “The water is warming up. Algae blooms become more prevalent and you have this coupled with that and it’s like a steroid into an algae bloom,” said Pack.
DEP representatives are calling it mixed seawater. In an email on Wednesday afternoon, they said it’s “primarily” saltwater from a dredging project at Port Manatee, mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff and rainfall. However, environmentalists tell us they’re concerned about several pollutants.
“This is a huge slug of nitrogen and other fuel for algae. But we’re also concerned about what else might be in there,” said Bloom.
He says there’s sampling being done by several groups including Manatee County and HRK Holding, the owner of the stack that’s causing this entire issue. For now, environmentalists say it’s a waiting game and hoping not all the 480 million gallons of water get dumped into the bay.
The DEP says HRK is still trying to stop the leak from a portion of the stack system at the site that was entering Piney Point Creek. And they’re hoping that it’ll be fixed and the stack stabilized long before the authorized dump limit of 480 million gallons is reached. Still, it’s an ongoing discharge of polluted water right into Tampa Bay and all the regulators can do for now is watch.