PALMETTO – Three more leaks from an unknown source have emerged in one of the gypsum stacks holding contaminated water at the closed Piney Point phosphate plant.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) reports that the leaks, discovered on Jan. 5, are “low-volume,” seeping less than three gallons of water per minute combined.
A more serious leak in March 2021 resulted in FDEP approving the dumping of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay to prevent flooding of homes and businesses in the event the stack might collapse. The contaminated water discharged in March and April spread throughout Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay, transporting nitrogen and phosphorus that spurred a bloom of the toxic algae red tide that lasted from April to November, causing fish kills and respiratory irritation.
Since then, about 265 tons of nitrogen and 240 tons of phosphate have been removed from the Piney Point wastewater ponds as a precaution.
“Currently, there is no indication of any concern with the integrity or stability of the stack system, and there will be no offsite discharges at this time,” according to the FDEP’s report. “Seepage volume remains low and is completely contained within the on-site lined stormwater management system.”
If the leak worsens, the leaked wastewater will be pumped back into the pond on top of the gyp stack, according to FDEP, whose engineers and regulatory staff are coordinating with contractors to determine the cause and source of the leak.
The current storage capacity for additional rainfall at the site is approximately 18.3 inches, FDEP reports. Expected rainfall through the end of May 2022 is approximately 15 inches.
The wastewater eventually will be injected into a deep well now under construction at 3105 Buckeye Road. The FDEP issued a permit in December for Manatee County to build the 3,300-foot-deep well, despite objections from five environmental groups concerned about the potential for contaminating underground drinking water in the Floridan aquifer.