Water-Related News

FDEP: Piney Point discharges to Tampa Bay reduced by 90%

Discharges of polluted water into Tampa Bay from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site in Manatee County have decreased by more than 90%, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday.

“Today we have been able to turn off the two siphons and have reduced the discharge flow to Port Manatee,” said DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.

The flow of polluted water to the port is now down to 5 million gallons per day, the DEP said.

The big reduction in discharges of polluted water into the natural environment appears to be another important turning point in the Piney Point disaster, which began last week when the liner in a wastewater containment pond began leaking and a breach opened in the pond wall, causing polluted water to run out the side.

Measuring Piney Point’s impacts will take time, USF researchers say

Data on nitrates and phosphate will be important when determining the spill’s effect on Tampa Bay.

Scientists will be paying close attention to water quality data as they work to determine the environmental impacts that polluted discharges from the Piney Point phosphate plant have had on Tampa Bay.

But some of the most important data about nitrates and phosphates takes time to process, researchers say.

A team of scientists from the USF College of Marine Science on Wednesday took a vessel into Tampa Bay to study the area and bring back water samples.

But they don’t expect to have some of the results for days or weeks because some chemicals take longer to process and involve more resources, said Tom Frazer, Dean of the USF College of Marine Science.

“Let's say you're analyzing something for nitrate, or phosphate or something like that. There's a set of protocols that are in place. There's lab time involved and you have to run it through the various instrumentation to get that result,” said Frazer. “So some things move faster than others.”

The team will develop forecast models that show where they expect the polluted water to go and observe any anomalies in Tampa Bay.

The scientists didn’t find any large anomalies on the surface of Tampa Bay during their first day of research, Frazer said.

“We didn't see any fish kills or things like that. But that's why you collect the samples ... so we understand what types of nutrient concentrations are on the water,” said Frazer.

The team collected samples of bacteria and water to analyze types of phytoplankton that might be present. The researchers also collected samples of sediments and fish, to see if there are any contaminants that are in the tissues of those organisms, or in the sediments themselves.

USF launches research cruise to study Piney Point’s environmental impact

The research team will set out to answer how the wastewater will affect our environment and marine life.

TAMPA — The wastewater emergency at the former Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County has sparked a lot of questions.

The state of Florida says quality tests show there is a high amount of nutrients in the water, including phosphorous and nitrogen. And it's being released at a rate of about 23,500 gallons a minute, in an effort to avoid a larger uncontrolled collapse of the retention pond.

It remains unclear just how that water will affect our environment, ecosystems and marine life. But, scientists from the University of South Florida have set out to find answers.

A team from USF's College of Marine Science launched the first research cruise into Tampa Bay Wednesday to study the environmental impacts of the Piney Point reservoir release.

Deep well injection now imminent at Piney Point

MANATEE COUNTY — On Tuesday, Manatee County Commissioners unanimously authorized the use of a deep injection well on county-owned property directly south of the Piney Point site across Buckeye Road. The county says that the action gives the BOCC "total control" over the well and allows the county to dictate the quality of the water before it goes into the well.

In various iterations of the deep-well solution as previously proposed, what went into the well and how much it was treated first varied and was sometimes unclear. In some cases, a private company would have looked to offset costs by accepting other wastewater from other areas. The presentation Tuesday emphasized that only water from Piney Point would be injected into the well and that the county would control the level of treatment the water underwent prior to being injected.

"The residents and business owners of North Manatee can rest assured that the water atop the stacks will be treated before it is transferred to the deep injection well and then capped to ensure no other water enters the well," Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh said.

The cost would be absorbed by the state with the county contributing no more than the $6 million it had originally committed to a deep-well injection site. As for liability, Manatee County Attorney Bill Clague explained that as the owner of the well, the county would be liable.

Piney Point: Here’s how to read water quality results

Samples are being taken from points across the bay and near the discharge point in Port Manatee to determine any changes in baseline water quality. PALMETTO — Officials appear to have avoided a "catastrophic" collapse of the leaking Piney Point reservoir by pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater into Tampa Bay.

Now scientists and environmentalists are closely watching to determine what kind of environmental impact that discharge will have on sea life in the Bay.

Samples are being taken regularly from areas across Tampa Bay and near where the wastewater was being pumped into Port Manatee to give officials a baseline for comparison. Those sampling results are being updated regularly by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on this website.

FDEP is collaborating with Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to collect the samples from 11 different locations daily, monitoring for salinity, nutrient levels, radionuclides and other variables, according to the site.

Mark Luther, director of the USF Center for Maritime and Port Studies, explained the significance of some of the measures being tracked.

What could Piney Point do to Tampa Bay?

Scientists are trying to forecast what comes next. Environmentalists fear algal blooms and fish kills.

The focus for emergency teams at the old Piney Point phosphate plant property is stopping a flood from surging out of an enormous, leaking reservoir of polluted water.

Success on that front could mean pumping a majority of the 480 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay, posing an ecological danger to the treasured estuary that clean water advocates say may endure for weeks or months.

Releases as of early Monday had dropped the pond level by approximately 100 million gallons. “That’s like dumping 50,000 bags of fertilizer into the bay all at once,” said Ed Sherwood, director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

The Estuary Program has tracked the nitrogen load, mostly from runoff, in that portion of the bay from Port Manatee to Pinellas Point and south for years. The releases to the port, if they continue until the pond is empty, could in a matter of days put in “double the amount of nutrients ... than what we would like to see in an entire year,” Sherwood said.

Like fertilizer on land, the nitrogen may encourage growth in the water, in the form of algal blooms. The Estuary Program is working with researchers at the University of South Florida to forecast where the polluted discharges from Piney Point might flow, and how quickly they will leave the bay.

“Real provisional at this point, but we’re concerned about the plume heading south to the east on the shore of Tampa Bay,” Sherwood said. If the wastewater is carried into shallow areas of the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve, he said, scientists fear algal blooms will follow. The model results are preliminary, and it remains uncertain how much waste will hit the bay and where currents and tides will carry it.

If the nutrients do fuel a bloom, oxygen levels in the water would drop as the algae decays, said Mark Luther, a University of South Florida oceanography professor. That could mean fish and other marine life die in large numbers around the polluted area.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program helps us to ‘Sort Through the Green Stuff’

What is it? Algae, cyanobacteria, or seagrass?

This past week, the four Florida National Estuary Programs, along with local and regional partners, convened a 3-day workshop around the topic of macroalgae. Macroalgae refers to larger species of algae, whose individuals you can see without a microscope. Seaweed is another name commonly used.

If you’ve been out in Sarasota Bay or the Gulf, chances are, you’ve probably stumbled across this “green or brown stuff” floating in the water or tumbling along the seafloor. However, it is important to note that not all the green/brown stuff you may see is algae. It could be cyanobacteria or marine plants. So what exactly is the difference between the three?

Updates from Manatee County on Piney Point reservoir

The latest updates on the situation at the Piney Point reservoir will be posted on the Manatee County website:

https://www.mymanatee.org/news___events/what_s_new/piney_point_update

This page will continue to be updated as the situation evolves.

For even more updates, follow Manatee County's official Twitter accounts at @ManateeGov and @MCGPublicSafety.

Use the resident information tool to see if you are in the evacuation zone.

Past updates are also archived on this page.

Piney Point update from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Piney Point Key Talking Points

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is working with regional partners to coordinate and synthesize water quality, benthic, seagrass, and fisheries monitoring data. We are also consulting with USF to model forecasted plume trajectory from the Piney Point discharge.

The primary pollutants of concern for this discharge are phosphorus and nitrogen (primarily ammonia nitrogen), which may stimulate an algae response and cause adverse effects on seagrass, fish, and other wildlife.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is focused on reducing nutrient pollution to Tampa Bay, no matter the source. As a community, we need to renew our commitment to a healthy Tampa Bay and continue to invest in protecting this natural resource that we’ve worked so hard to restore over the past 30+ years.

Our website (tbep.org) will provide links to baseline data and any updates from monitoring in the future. Additional information, including regular updates from FDEP, featured media interviews, and live drone footage are available at https://linktr.ee/TBEP. If you would like to share this statement on social media channels, visual resources are available for your use here.

Please direct any questions or requests for support to esherwood@tbep.org and mburke@tbep.org.

Piney Point update from the Fla. Dept. of Environmental Protection

Piney Point Update - April 5, 2021

There have been news reports of a second area of seepage from the east wall of the NGS-South compartment at Piney Point. These reports are unsubstantiated. A technical working group, including engineers and dam safety specialists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM), the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Army Corps of Engineers and additional third-party engineers, was on-site today evaluating conditions and determined the site was safe to continue work.

Key status updates and response activities:

  • The department continues to monitor the one identified area where there is concentrated seepage from the east wall of the NGS-South compartment. The water from this seepage remains contained onsite in the site’s lined stormwater management.
  • The uncontrolled discharge to Piney Point Creek has ceased.
  • Controlled discharges from NGS-South compartment to Port Manatee are ongoing to reduce the volume in order to reduce pressure and stabilize the system.
  • In addition to the controlled discharge to Port Manatee, the DEM has also deployed at least 26 pumps for use of water removal from the NGS-South compartment and other water management activities at the site. They have also deployed 10 vacuum trucks.
  • More than 35 million gallons per day are being removed from the NGS-South compartment through these combined water activities.
  • DEP has collaborated with Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, to identify additional sampling locations around Port Manatee and the adjacent coastline. An additional five sampling locations have been added. Beginning today, that makes a total of 11 locations that will be monitored daily by the department. This monitoring includes sampling to determine changes in salinity, dissolved oxygen, clarity, nutrient levels, turbidity, radionuclides and other variables that will determine any changes in baseline water quality status in this area. The counties will be sampling additional separate site locations. To date results have been received for dissolved oxygen, salinity and pH, all of which meet water quality standards. Additional water quality information, including additional parameters, will be published here as it is available in the coming days.
  • Department staff went out to the site today to collect samples to obtain the latest water quality information on the water in the NGS-South compartment, including radiologicals. All water quality information concludes that this water is NOT radioactive. These results will be published here as soon as available.
  • The department is also working to deploy innovative technologies to remove nutrients from the water in NGS-South compartment prior to discharge and that could be implemented to prevent or minimize algal blooms in Port Manatee and surrounding areas.

Residents can find the latest information on the status of the site and response activities at ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate.

For information on public safety and evacuation guidance in this area, please visit MyManatee.org.

10 tips to save water for “Water Conservation Month”

While the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) encourages water conservation year-round, there is extra emphasis each April for Water Conservation Month. April is historically one of the driest months of the year and typically marks the peak demand season for public water suppliers.

With these 10 simple tips, you can lower your monthly water bill and do your part to save hundreds of gallons of water:

INDOOR

  • Only run your washing machine and dishwasher when they are full.
  • Use the shortest clothes washing cycle for lightly soiled loads; normal and permanent-press wash cycles use more water.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not under running water.
  • Scrape, don’t rinse, your dishes before loading in the dishwasher.
  • Install high-efficiency showerheads, faucets and toilets.

OUTDOOR

  • Check your home’s irrigation system for leaks.
  • Turn off your irrigation system and only water as needed.
  • Don’t leave sprinklers unattended. Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to turn sprinklers off.
  • Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle when washing the car.
  • Consider installing a rain barrel with a drip irrigation system for watering your landscaping. Rainwater is free and better for your plants because it doesn’t contain hard minerals.

Leaks are the biggest water waster, both inside and outside of your home. You can use your water meter to check for leaks. Turn off all faucets and water-using appliances and make sure no one uses water during the testing period. Wait for the hot water heater and ice cube makers to refill and for regeneration of water softeners. Go to your water meter and record the current reading. Wait 30 minutes. (Remember, no water should be used during this period.) Read the meter again. If the reading has changed, you have a leak.

For more information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

District Announces Success of Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area Recovery Efforts

TBNWUCA map

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District), in partnership with Tampa Bay Water, announces the successful environmental recovery efforts of the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area. The success of the Northern Tampa Bay recovery efforts was detailed at the Governing Board’s February meeting. The Board has concurred that a recovery strategy is no longer required for the area because aquifer levels have rebounded and the health of the lakes and wetlands in the region have recovered or significantly improved.

The District has invested more than $300 million and Tampa Bay Water has invested nearly $2 billion toward this 20-year recovery effort, which has reduced groundwater withdrawals by about 50% and has developed innovative solutions to replace these reductions with alternative water sources, including surface water and desalinated sea water. Most notably, the ecological health of more than 1,300 lakes, wetlands, and other surface waterbodies in the area have recovered or significantly improved and most aquifer water levels are at their highest in four to six decades.

“By all measure, this is such an incredible model of what we can do as a community to reinforce and maintain a healthy environment,” said Governing Board Secretary Rebecca Smith who represents Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “I just think it’s amazing. A proud moment for our region, for sure.”

“This is the evidence of the value of the water management district working along with Tampa Bay Water,” said Governing Board Chair Kelly Rice. “We look forward to working with Tampa Bay Water for many, many more years.”

Before the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area was established in 1989, large amounts of water were permitted and pumped from the region’s wellfields, resulting in lakes and wetlands in the area losing water and, in some cases, drying up completely, which caused significant harm to the natural ecosystem. As a result, Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 ending the region’s “Water Wars.” The District and Tampa Bay Water worked in partnership to develop a 20-year recovery plan, which included reducing the amount of groundwater withdrawals in the area and developing alternative water sources for the residents of Tampa Bay.

Part of the joint recovery approach included Tampa Bay Water building one of the largest seawater desalination plants in North America located in Apollo Beach, pulling water from various river sources, constructing the 15-billion-gallon C.W. “Bill” Young Regional Reservoir in southern Hillsborough County, installing miles of pipelines to connect systems, and completing a surface water treatment plant. These alternative water resources have been critical in compensating for the reduction in groundwater withdrawals and the rise in demand for water due to population growth in the area. These alternative sources also provide resiliency, allowing Tampa Bay Water flexibility in its water sources.

The District will continue to monitor the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area to ensure continued success. Currently, Tampa Bay Water has a consolidated water use permit that includes all 10 wellfields in the area for an annual daily average of 90 million gallons. Tampa Bay Water has submitted a request to renew its consolidated water use permit for another 10 years at the current withdrawal level, which will go to the District’s Governing Board for approval later this year.

Researchers use drones to study coastal habitat migration across Tampa Bay

TERRA CEIA - Researchers with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the University of Florida are using drone technology to map and model the impacts of sea level rise due to a changing climate.

They’re studying ongoing changes in coastal habitats which can serve as a buffer from storm surge and flooding. Ultimately, researchers want to know whether or not these habitats can or will move fast enough.

The long-term project will help to identify vulnerabilities as scientists explore new options to restore critical coastal habitats such as seagrass, mangroves, salt marshes and wetlands.

Researchers are monitoring several areas around Tampa Bay including Hidden Harbor, Cockroach Bay, Archie creek Mosaic, Upper Tampa Bay Park, Harbor Palms, and Feather Sound, among others.

For more information, visit https://maps.wateratlas.usf.edu/blue-carbon/.

UF scientists to probe downstream ecological impacts of stormwater ponds

GAINESVILLE — Florida teems with rain. Depending on where you live, you might get 40 to 60 inches annually. That rain must go somewhere. Enter Florida’s 76,000 stormwater ponds. When it rains, the water runs off the land, bringing chemicals, grass clippings, lawn debris and more from the landscape into these ponds.

Yet little to no research analyzes downstream ecological impacts from those ponds. Stormwater ponds were originally designed to reduce downstream flooding and are expected to provide water quality benefits by preventing things like sediments or nutrients from entering natural water bodies.

Although ponds do help water quality, research has shown that ponds aren’t as good at removing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen as they were originally designed. Nutrients not removed by the ponds might go from the stormwater pond – which collects the rain and debris – to nearby bodies of water.

A University of Florida scientist will embark on a study this summer, using Manatee County as his lab. But his results will apply to much of Florida, including Tampa Bay and Biscayne Bay.