Piney Point deep well injection to proceed despite residents' drinking water concerns

It's been nearly a month and no new wastewater discharges have been needed at the old Piney Point fertilizer plant after workers installed a steel plate to stop the leak. Now, the major concern is the remaining wastewater.

The Piney Point crisis was back in the spotlight Tuesday night as leaders addressed concerns about the long-term impacts from the leak at a meeting of Manatee County governments.

As of Monday, 205 million gallons of wastewater remain in the 77-acre storage pond at risk for leaks.

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Last month, Manatee County commissioners approved a contract for the construction of a deep injection well to dispose of the wastewater, but not everyone is on board. The controversial procedure, which would inject the wastewater as deep as 3,500 feet underground, has some concerned about how it could impact the underground water supply.

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"That is well into the lower aquifer which is saltwater, and that water moves from east to west and so when it goes down it's going nowhere except under the Gulf of Mexico and under Tampa Bay," acting Manatee County administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said.

Hopes assured the public at Tuesday's night meeting the drinking water shouldn't be impacted because drinking water aquifers are typically anywhere from 1,500 to 3000 feet deep. The wastewater would be trapped under multiple impermeable layers of rock about 3,500 feet underground.

Meanwhile, there's concern about the leak's impact on red tide after low red tide levels were recorded off the coast of Manatee and Sarasota counties last week.

"We don't think those are a direct result of the Piney Point discharges, but they are something that researchers are keeping an eye on because any time these marine plants interact with food sources like nutrients and nitrogen it can make those blooms worse," Tampa Bay Estuary Program assistant director Maya Burke said.

So far, no dead fish have been reported as county leaders continue to discuss the future of the site.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Hopes spoke about plans to possibly turn the site into a BMX park or soccer fields, ideas which will have to wait until the county can remove the waste that still remains at Piney Point.