FORT MYERS, Fla .– Environmental groups are concerned about recent releases from the Piney Point wastewater treatment facility near Tampa Bay, which will eventually fuel an algal bloom that could impact coastal areas of Florida.
The nutrient-rich waters from the treatment facility will compensate for natural balances in coastal estuaries and eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico, where the red tide begins.
“It looks like if they pump that volume of water out of Tampa Bay, it could very likely stimulate an algae bloom,” said John Cassani of the Southwest Florida nonprofit Calusa. Waterkeeper. “But they don’t tell us the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations. Usually you look at the concentrations, and they don’t give us that data. “
A harmful algal bloom, also known as a red tide, occurs when algae grows uncontrollably and produces toxic or harmful effects on people and wildlife, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Karenia brevis is the natural organism that causes the proliferation of red tides. But the organism can reach toxic levels when conditions are right and spread from the Tampa area south to the Florida Keys.
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The area was partially paralyzed during a 17-month red tide bloom that began in fall 2017 and lasted until spring 2019.
Red tide blooms have occurred throughout Florida’s history, but researchers at the University of Miami say they are stronger, more frequent and longer lasting than they were yesterday. is 50 years old.
Millions of gallons of sewage were pumped from the retention facilities at Piney Point in hopes of reducing the likelihood of a larger breach.
“He’s got heavy metals and all kinds of problems,” said Jacki Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity. “(The Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should look for killed fish and algae blooms. You have a high volume of nutrients going down in a short time, and this is going to affect the marine ecosystem. ”
Some Southwest Florida environmental organizations are helping document the destruction.
“Our goal is to help collect data to record pre-unloading conditions and to come up with a strategy for collecting data during the event,” said Jennifer Hecker, director of the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership. “This is an additional nutrient load in the Gulf of Mexico, and we know that nutrients can contribute to the severity, frequency and duration of the red tide, so we are also concerned about the impacts. on our estuaries. ”
She said the contaminated water could potentially have impacts along the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida.
“It’s expected to spread throughout the Gulf, and once it gets there, things that are stimulated can move up and down all over the southwest coast of Florida,” he said. Hecker said.
After years of ‘kicking the road’, more time for a ‘beautiful engineering solution’
Andy Mele, a Sarasota resident and longtime environmental activist with Suncoast Waterkeeper who has worked extensively on phosphate mining issues, said the current situation with the discharge of polluted water from the old plant of Piney Point fertilizer is the only option available under the current one. crisis situation, but it could have been avoided if the heads of government had acted sooner.
“They’re up against the wall,” Mele said of the dumps. “That’s all they can do. There is no time for a nice technical solution to this. The chickens are returning home to roost after more than a decade of state and county indecision. ”
“Everyone avoided this,” Mele added. “Everyone is kicking the road. It is a problem and it is all over the state.
Mele said the biggest concern with current releases to water is algal blooms that can lead to fish deaths and other environmental problems.
The water released is rich in nutrients, but it is neither radioactive nor as acidic and toxic as the water from other retention ponds on the property.
The leaking retention pond contains more diluted water because there have been releases already over the years, Mele said. The other retention ponds still contain the original sewage from the fertilizer plant, which is rich in heavy metals and as acidic as battery acid, Mele said.
But the nutrient-rich water pumped out of the retention pond is still a big concern. Mele said it was still water “you don’t want to let it go out into the environment; it’s full of nutrient pollution. ”
“If the thing holds up and doesn’t collapse and keeps pumping and pumping and pumping, you’re probably going to have algae blooms and probably killed fish,” Mele said, adding that he could. have long term implications because “the things just don’t go away.”
“When you have an amount of nutrient pollution in the water, it’s taken up by the algae, and then the algae itself dies and goes to the bottom and becomes a legacy pollution that will increase for years,” Mele said.
‘You can tell the fish smell it’
Justin Moore, a second-generation fishing guide who has been a captain since 1999, said he was deeply concerned about the potential for harmful algae blooms.
“I just don’t know how much more these berries can take,” Moore said. “It’s a real shame to see the ecosystem go through this again when it really could have been avoided.”
Moore said he recently took a boat ride around the area where the water is being dumped. He said there was already a water color change in the area, from Port Manatee to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and fewer wildlife. The water is normally clear at this time of year. but Moore said it is currently a greenish yellow.
“There were no birds, almost no mules, you can tell the fish smell it and walk away from it,” Moore said.
But Mele said pumping the water out of the leaky retention pond is the “lesser of two evils,” because if the breach widens and the pond’s berm collapses completely, it could result in a cascade of blackouts resulting in more toxic water from the other farm. ponds to be released into the environment.
This is because the water pressure in the leaky retention pond helps stabilize the berms in the non-leaking ponds, so if all the water is draining and the pressure drops, the other berms could collapse.
“Gyp stacks are machines,” Mele said. “They look like big piles of dirt, but they are actually very sophisticated and highly technical machines. They have pumps and hoses and a complicated balance of pressures, so if suddenly the large pond drains, chances are the back pressure from the pond alone is no longer there to support the nasty ponds. The real fear is that one of these could collapse where the current pond is now and follow the stuff all the way to Tampa Bay.
The discharge of water into the other retention ponds would likely result in instantaneous killings of fish and other environmental devastation, Mele said.
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