Toxic water threatens Tampa, ecosystems

Due+to+the+fear+of+a+leak+in+the+Piney+Point+reservoir%2C+millions+of+gallons+of+wastewater+was+dumped+into+the+Tampa+Bay.+Full+of+nutrients+like+phosphorus+and+nitrogen%2C+these+chemicals+have+the+potential+to+cause+an+environmental+disaster.+

Illustration by Alison Rivero

Due to the fear of a leak in the Piney Point reservoir, millions of gallons of wastewater was dumped into the Tampa Bay. Full of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, these chemicals have the potential to cause an environmental disaster.

Cindy Rojas, Staff Writer

On April 3rd, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County and ordered an evacuation of its residents as a toxic wastewater reservoir was on the border of collapsing. In order to stop the leak at the Piney Point reservoir, more than 200 million gallons of wastewater were dumped into Tampa Bay, which could pose a threat to the environment.

 

On April 3rd, Florida Governor DeSantis sent out a tweet in which he explained the situation at Piney Point reservoir. There had been a leak that led to a mass evacuation as there were concerns for a possible structural collapse. 

 

“Due to a possible breach of mixed saltwater from the south reservoir at the Piney Point facility,” began Governor DeSantis’ tweet. “I have declared a State of Emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for necessary response and recovery.”

 

Residents of Manatee County were evacuated from their homes. Manatee County public officials said that if there were to be a structural collapse at the reservoir; about 600 million gallons of water could rush out of the retention pool. In order to prevent flooding, 200 million gallons of toxic wastewater were pumped into Tampa Bay. 

 

Although a collapse and flooding were avoided, there are many concerns surrounding the effects of the toxic wastewater that was dumped into Tampa Bay. Many are questioning the impact that toxic wastewater could have on the environment. 

 

The wastewater that is being dumped into Tampa Bay is very rich in nutrients, which could lead to algae blooms. Algae blooms are an accumulation of rapidly growing algae populations that surge in freshwater bodies of water. 

 

“Not only is contaminated water dangerous for humans that could possibly drink it, but also for the living animals where this water ends up,” shared senior and Environmental Honor Society President Paola Soto-Perez. Large algae blooms could form which can be harmful for many fish and other wildlife.

 

“It does seem like if they pump that volume of water into Tampa Bay that it could very likely stimulate an algae bloom,” said John Cassani of the southwest Florida nonprofit organization Calusa Waterkeeper. “But they’re not telling us the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Usually, you look at concentrations, and they’re not giving us that data.”

 

Despite the harmless appearance of algae, sudden algae blooms are harmful, as they can cover entire surfaces of lakes and rivers. In other words, if sunlight is unable to penetrate through the algae, entire ecosystems can suffer from a lack of sunlight.

 

“It has heavy metals and all kinds of problems,” said Jacki Lopez with the Center for Biological Diversity. “(The Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should be looking for fish kills and algae blooms. You have a high volume of nutrients coming down in a short period of time, and that’s going to affect the marine ecosystem.”

 

One of the animals that make up Tampa Bay’s ecosystems is the West Indian Manatee. These large animals are dying at an alarming rate. Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservative Commission reported 573 manatee deaths for 2021.

 

The main source of food for a manatee is seagrass, and its abundance could be greatly affected if algae blooms were to take place. Recently, the manatee population is rapidly dwindling due to a lack of food.

 

Overall, while the collapse of the reservoir was mitigated, environmental concerns have definitely been brought to light with the dumping of wastewater is a serious issue. Damaging ecosystems and harming wildlife are just some of the negative implications of this action.

For more information, please visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/habs/be-aware-habs.html#:~:text=Harmful%20algal%20blooms%20can%20produce,rivers%2C%20lakes%2C%20and%20oceans.

https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/2021/04/15/piney-point-threat-to-tampa-bay-water-desalination-plant-diminishes/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20drinking%20water%20Tampa%20Bay,the%20agency’s%20interim%20general%20manager.&text=The%20state%20allowed%20215%20million,week%20period%20ending%20April%209.