Piney Point spill critics take aim at sewage dumping

When local waters contain enterococci bacteria, which comes from sewage, The Sun publishes a water quality report listing affected beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water.

This week, all the local beaches tested negative for the bacteria (in addition to being free of red tide for the second time in two weeks). But the water quality report makes it into print more than anyone would like.

The good news is that the same environmental coalition that sued Piney Point and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) this year for dumping wastewater into Tampa Bay, causing red tide, is now suing the city of Bradenton for dumping sewage in the Manatee River and other waterways.

These lawsuits may never be won in court, but they likely will be a win for the environment, pushing regulators and municipal officials to be accountable after decades of passing the buck.

That’s a win for every resident and tourist who turns on a faucet or flushes a toilet.

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, ManaSota-88 and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper have put the city of Bradenton on notice for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, claiming that the city “has repeatedly sent raw and partially treated sewage into the Manatee River, storm drains, streams, neighborhoods and local waters including Wares Creek, Palma Sola Creek, and Palma Sola Bay which flow into Lower Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Bradenton’s sewage woes are unfortunate and follow a familiar pattern of municipalities neglecting critical environmental infrastructure,” said Justin Bloom, founder and board member of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “We hope that Bradenton will follow the path of the other municipalities that we’ve sued and focus their attention on fixing the problems and reducing the sewage pollution that plagues our waterways.”

The notice cites the city’s reports that within the last four years, over 160 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Manatee River, bypassing the city’s treatment plant, resulting in high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria in the Manatee River.

The discharges contribute to red tide, according to Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88.

“We just endured an incredibly difficult summer, where we witnessed red tide kill large quantities of marine life. If we don’t fix these problems, we’re likely to endure more pain in perpetuity. Red tide and contamination is hurting our local economy, much of which relies on our waterways,” he said. “We have to do better for our quality of life and for future generations.”

The environmental coalition has also petitioned the receiver for Piney Point, the former phosphate plant at Port Manatee, to ensure the remaining wastewater at the site is clean enough to inject into a deep well under the Floridan aquifer, the source of Florida’s drinking water. FDEP is in the process of permitting the well.

“The permit application admits that Manatee County does not know the precise geologic strata in the location of the proposed well, and instead is guessing that the ‘anticipated geologic strata’ is similar to a well located five miles away,” according to the Nov. 10 letter to Tampa lawyer and Piney Point receiver Herbert R. Donica. “The permit application further admits that Manatee County does not know the precise location where the underground drinking water source begins or ends… a thorough analysis of the wastewater must be completed before billions of gallons of dangerous pollution is injected beneath the Lower Floridan aquifer.”