Mar 31, 2021 - News

What happens when 400 million gallons of contaminated water go in Tampa Bay

An aerial view of Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and the surrounding waters. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than 400 million gallons of phosphate-contaminated water will be released into Port Manatee from the Piney Point reservoirs, The Bradenton Herald reports.

  • After a leak was discovered in the 77-acre process water pond last week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said draining it is the only way to prevent "a containment failure and catastrophic release."

What it means: USF Geoscience Professor Matthew Pasek told Axios that the release of contaminated water presents consequences but could be managed.

Two potential problems:

  • Natural minerals in the water could have trace elements "from arsenic to radioactive stuff" that people and sea animals would be exposed to.
  • Phosphate in the water could cause algae blooms, blocking sunlight that good algae need to produce oxygen and therefore suffocating fish.

Can you counteract those chemicals? It depends on how fast the water gets released, Pasek said. There are ways of pulling phosphate out of the water, but those methods take time and money.

  • "Doing things like this occasionally will cause problems, but they have to do what they have to do. Either release a fair bit now or release all of it when the whole thing ruptures," he added.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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