FORT MYERS, Fla. – Environmental groups fear that releases from the Piney Point wastewater treatment facility close to Tampa Bay will ultimately fuel an algae bloom that could hurt areas of coastal Florida.
Nutrient-rich waters from the therapy facility will offset pure balances within the coastal estuaries and ultimately find yourself within the Gulf of Mexico, the place pink tide initiates.
“It does seem like if they pump that volume of water into Tampa Bay that it could very likely stimulate an algae bloom,” mentioned John Cassani of the southwest Florida nonprofit group Calusa Waterkeeper. “But they’re not telling us the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Usually you look at concentrations, and they’re not giving us that data.”
A dangerous algal bloom, also called pink tide, happens when algae develop uncontrolled and yield poisonous or dangerous results on individuals and wildlife, based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Karenia brevis is the naturally occurring organism that causes pink tide blooms. But the organism can develop to poisonous concentrations when circumstances are proper and unfold from the Tampa space south to the Florida Keys.
The area was partially crippled throughout a 17-month pink tide bloom that began in fall 2017 and lasted till spring 2019.
Red tide blooms have occurred all through Florida’s historical past, however researchers from the University of Miami say they’re stronger, extra frequent and longer-lasting than they have been 50 years in the past.
Millions of gallons of wastewater have been pumped out of holding services at Piney Point, a long-abandoned phosphate plant, to drain a leaking wastewater reservoir in an effort to forestall a full breach.
“It has heavy metals and all kinds of problems,” mentioned Jacki Lopez with the Center for Biological Diversity. “(The Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should be looking for fish kills and algae blooms. You have a high volume of nutrients coming down in a short period of time, and that’s going to affect the marine ecosystem.”
Some southwest Florida environmental organizations are serving to doc the destruction.
“Our focus is on how to assist in collecting data to record predischarge conditions and come up with a strategy to collect data during the event,” mentioned Jennifer Hecker, director of the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership. “This is additional nutrient loading into the Gulf of Mexico, and we know that nutrients can contribute to the severity, frequency and duration of red tide, so we’re concerned about the impacts to our estuaries as well.”
She mentioned the contaminated water could trigger issues alongside the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida.
“The expectation is it will go out into the Gulf, and once it gets out there, things that are stimulated can move up and down the entire coast of southwest Florida,” Hecker mentioned.
After years of ‘kicking the can down the street,’ no extra time for a ‘good, engineered answer’
Andy Mele, a Sarasota resident and longtime environmental activist with Suncoast Waterkeeper who has labored extensively on phosphate mining points, mentioned the discharge of polluted water is the one choice obtainable proper now, but it surely could have been prevented if authorities leaders had acted sooner.
“They’re up against the wall,” Mele mentioned. “That’s all they can do. There is no time for a nice, engineered solution to this. The chickens are coming home to roost after over a decade of indecision by the state and the county.
“Everybody’s been avoiding this,” Mele added. “Everybody’s kicking the can down the road. It’s a bear of a problem, and it’s all over the state.”
Mele mentioned the best considerations are algae blooms that may result in fish kills and different environmental issues.
The water being launched is nutrient-rich, but it surely’s not radioactive and never almost as acidic and poisonous as water in different holding ponds on the property.
The leaking holding pond has water that’s extra diluted as a result of there have already got been discharges through the years, Mele mentioned. The different holding ponds nonetheless have the unique wastewater from the fertilizer plant, which is wealthy in heavy metals and is as acidic as battery acid, Mele mentioned.
But the nutrient-rich water being pumped out of the holding pond continues to be a giant concern. Mele mentioned it’s nonetheless water “you don’t want to let out in the environment; it’s chock-full of nutrient pollution.”
“If the thing holds off and doesn’t collapse and they just keep pumping and pumping and pumping, you’re still going to have algae blooms and fish kills probably,” Mele mentioned, including there could be long-term implications as a result of “the stuff just doesn’t go away.”
“When you have a slug of nutrient pollution in the water, it gets taken up by algae and then the algae itself dies and goes to the bottom and becomes legacy pollution that will lift up for years,” Mele said.
‘You can tell the fish are sensing it’
Justin Moore, a second-generation fishing guide who has been a captain since 1999, said he’s deeply concerned.
“I just don’t know how much more these bays can take,” Moore mentioned. “It’s really unfortunate to see the ecosystem go through this again when this really could have been prevented.”
Moore said he took a boat ride recently around the area where the water is being dumped. He said there already is a change in water color in the region from Port Manatee up to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and less wildlife. The water normally is clear this time of year, but Moore said it is now a greenish yellow.
“There were no birds, hardly any mullet. You can tell the fish are sensing it and moving away from it,” Moore said.
But Mele said pumping the water out of the holding pond that’s leaking is the “lesser of two evils” because if the breach widens and the pond berm collapses, it could lead to a cascade of failures that causes more toxic water from the other holding ponds to be released into the environment.
That’s because pressure from the water in the leaking pond helps stabilize the berms in the ponds that aren’t leaking, so if the water all drains out and the pressure drops, the other berms could collapse.
The release of the water in the other holding ponds likely would lead to instant fish kills and environmental devastation, Mele said.