PALMETTO, Fla. — The wastewater stored at the old Piney Point phosphate mine, sitting in a stack of phosphogypsum, is just that -- water nobody would want to come in contact with in the environment.
One of the site's lined compartments holding wastewater is leaking. According to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' emergency declaration on Saturday, it contained about 480 million gallons of a mixture of seawater and remnant process water from fertilizer manufacturing operations from years past.
Crews have been working since the breach to drain the retention pond in a controlled attempt to alleviate pressure on the structure. Should it break, it would send a "wall of water" flooding the surrounding area, said Dr. Scott Hopes, Manatee County's acting administrator.
At its recent peak, there was a total of about 800 million gallons kept on-site in a few retention ponds.
DeSantis at a news conference Sunday said that in addition to the process water, saltwater from the Port Manatee dredging project and stormwater, there is a high amount of nutrients in the water, including phosphorous and nitrogen. It's also slightly acidic.
The state contends it continues to run water quality tests and says it meets "all quality standards for marine waters" but pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen are considered too high.
This has environmentalists concerned given the wastewater containing a high level of nutrients either leaking from the reservoir or being drained ultimately will end up in area waterways and Tampa Bay.
That could potentially spur toxic algae blooms and kill off seagrass beds -- manatees' main source of food.
But, so far, the state says water testing being conducted at Port Manatee, which is located on Tampa Bay where the controlled discharges are being directed, show that "dissolved oxygen, salinity and pH levels meet water quality standards."
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