Work continues to locate, fix Piney Point leaks

Work continues to locate, fix Piney Point leaks
A device intended to remove mud and silt could allow workers to identify leaks more easily in a Piney Point gypsum stack. - Florida Department of Environmental Protection | Submitted

PALMETTO – Workers continue to search for leaks identified last month in a gypsum stack storing contaminated water at the former phosphate plant at Piney Point.

Contractors deployed a device last week designed to remove mud and silt, clearing the water so workers can find and repair the leaks more easily, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report.

Piney Point’s court-appointed receiver also has authorized the use of a new system to maximize water evaporation from the wastewater storage pond in the leaking stack to lower water levels.

FDEP reported on Jan. 5 that three leaks in the stack were seeping less than three gallons of water per minute combined. Scuba divers and other workers identified the source of one leak using hydrophone surveys, sonar work and dye trace studies.

Leaking water is being pumped back into the storage pond on top of the gyp stack, according to the agency’s most recent report, which states, “There continues to be no indication of any concern with the integrity or stability of the stack system, and there are no offsite discharges occurring at this time.”

A 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 of the stack’s collapse. The contaminated water discharged in March and April spread throughout Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay, transporting nitrogen and phosphorus that worsened 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 wastewater ponds as a precaution.

The contaminated water at Piney Point eventually will be injected into a 3,300-foot-deep well now under construction at 3105 Buckeye Road. The FDEP issued a permit in December for Manatee County to build the well despite objections from five environmental groups concerned about the potential for contaminating underground drinking water in the Floridan aquifer.