Apr 6, 2021 - News
Manatee County lifts evacuation order near Piney Point leak
Port Manatee
Port Manatee, where water from the containment pond at the old Piney Point phosophate plant is being released into Tampa Bay. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Officials on Tuesday reopened roads and lifted the evacuation order for residents and businesses near the old Piney Point phosphate plant as they continued to pump nutrient-rich water into Tampa Bay at Port Manatee to relieve pressure on the leak and look for ways to seal it.

What's new: Manatee County commission chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said that the commission approved a nearby injection well to funnel treated water from the leak into the deep earth instead of Tampa Bay, and assured local residents that their drinking water is safe.

  • Meanwhile the water still spilling out of the wastewater pond has been diverted to another lined reservoir for storage.

Engineers will soon begin designing a submersible rover to try to find and repair the leak in the pond's liner.

  • They'll also conduct a survey to try to map the underwater features of the pond and identify problem spots.

The big picture: Officials have drained 180 million gallons from the pond, which originally held 480 million gallons. The depth as of Tuesday afternoon was just under 60 feet.

  • The environmental impact of pumping that water — a mix of rain, saltwater from a dredging project, and polluted water that's a byproduct of fertilizer production — into the bay remains unknown.
  • The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring the discharge and conducting water samples "to make sure we hold HRK fully accountable for this incident," said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

The bottom line: Controlling the leak and avoiding a massive breach that would flood the local area gives engineers time to find a temporary fix, then a permanent solution.

  • "I’m excited that the county is committed to making sure that this is the last chapter of this story," said Valenstein.

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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