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Environment

Manatee County officials say a Piney Point deep well injection is the 'least offensive' option

Manatee County officials are pushing for approval of a plan to pump hundred of millions of gallons of polluted water from the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed from the Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Despite pending legal challenges from several environmental groups, Manatee County officials say they're ready to start pumping the remaining water underground.

Some people say that could eventually pollute the source of the area's drinking water.

But on Wednesday night in Bradenton, County Administrator Scott Hopes said during an informational meeting on the plan that he doubts that will happen. WUSF's Steve Newborn asked Hopes if this is the only plan they are contemplating.

Is this the only option to get rid of the Piney Point water, or do you consider an injection well to be the best option?

We have a critical situation where we have a very fragile state, we have a liner that probably was not appropriate at the time. And I don't believe it was a complete installation, because it's been exposed to UV light, it's breaking down. And so in order to avoid a repeat of the first week of April, which is still likely, I mean, there was a temporary fix. It's not a permanent fix. We accumulated a lot of rain this season and it wasn't even a bad rainy season. And so those stacks continue to fill up.

They tried putting this stuff on barges a number of years ago and shipping it out and dumping it in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe we could put it on barges and find some other state. I tried Louisiana, and then the governor found out about it. I had barges lined up with Mosaic. We were going to use their well in Louisiana, and then it came out in the Picayune Journal or whatever (Times-Picayune). And the governor said no, I don't want that stuff here. So that didn't work out.

I think we will have another breach. The thing’s leaking now, we're still in a state of emergency in Manatee County. And so the science has shown and everyone is in alignment, that that the least offensive option is a deep well injection of this effluent.
Scott Hopes, Manatee County administrator

But right now, we cannot make it through another rainy season.
I think we will have another breach. The thing’s leaking now, we're still in a state of emergency in Manatee County. And so the science has shown and everyone is in alignment, that that the least offensive option is a deep well injection of this effluent. It's being treated now. The harmful content in that southern pond is lessening. So hopefully by June when we're ready to start injecting, we've got less offensive material to go in there.

In Manatee County, we have three injection wells that the county owns. The city of Bradenton has another well and Tropicana has a well. There are five operating deep injection wells in Manatee County today. We have a 20-year experience with our oldest well.

Map of deep well injection site
Steve Newborn
Map of deep well injection site

A consortium of environmental groups has filed suit against this, saying it will damage the underground aquifer. You say you have 20 years of data, of proof, that this won't happen.

We have 20 years of actual experience in Manatee County, with Manatee County government operating that injection well. We have monitoring wells that monitor every layer of the aquifer to ensure that there is no leakage into the upper aquifers, where drinking water comes from. This is going 3,000 feet into that lower Floridan aquifer that has a high salinity aquifer and it moves it migrates from east to west, we are only a mile or so without wells located from the shoreline. It's going to gradually over a period of tens of thousands of years migrate through that strata and get filtered out before it ends up underneath the base of the Gulf of Mexico some 100,000 years from now.

How long would this project take?

If we stay on schedule, we can be operational injecting in June of next year. We're also looking at possibly using another well that we already have around Buffalo Creek, so that we can double it. We're expecting anywhere from a million to 2 million gallons a day capacity. There's probably still about 600 million gallons up there. There's about 270 million gallons in the problem pond

So you want to want to empty out all the ponds up there?

Yes, you’ve got three three primary ponds that need to be de-watered. My idea of closure is the highest soccer fields and BMX bike park in Manatee County.

Piney Point injection well schematic
Steve Newborn
Piney Point injection well schematic