We want to wish a happy new year to the entire Suncoast Waterkeeper family. Our waterways and natural areas support the local economy and quality of life. Together, we fought to protect our water in 2021 and, with your help, will continue to work to preserve what makes the Suncoast special.
Here’s a look back at our work in 2021 and a preview of what we’re working on for 2022:
Piney Point has been a ticking time bomb. Due to neglect and inaction, the State of Florida was forced to dump over 200 million gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay. Over the course of 2021, we experienced some of the worst red tides, other harmful algae blooms and fish kills that we have ever seen. The threat doesn’t end there. Now the State of Florida and DEP are working to inject the wastewater into our aquifer without adequate testing or filtration.
That is why we launched and are continuing to pursue a federal lawsuit to safely close Piney Point with other partners and organizations in the region.
In addition to the lawsuit, we hosted educational forums and conducted advocacy campaigns to demand better from our local and state elected officials on Piney Point.
Stopping Sewage Spills
Our region has suffered from numerous sewage spills due to poor management of aging environmental infrastructure. According to the City of Bradenton’s own reports, 160 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Manatee River over the last four years. This contributed to declining conditions in our estuaries. In 2021, we filed a notice of intent to sue the City of Bradenton over repeated sewage spills into our waterways. We hope to resolve our case against Bradenton in 2022. Our previous sewage lawsuits have resulted in major investments in wastewater infrastructure and fewer sewage spills. Together, we’re going to continue our work to reduce sewage spills on the Suncoast.
Water Quality Monitoring
To enjoy our waterways, we need to ensure that they are clean. We sample water quality weekly to keep our community informed about the water they rely on for recreation, work and more. In 2022, because of your support, we’ll continue to monitor water quality in our waterways.
Monitoring Public Information & Demanding Accountability
In many ways, regulation and oversight in Florida is broken. Our regulators have repeatedly ignored or failed to address threats to our water quality, quality of life and local economy. That’s why we regularly monitor public records for information on water quality, pollution, harmful algae blooms and new and existing projects. Monitoring this information allows us to let you know what is happening in our community and lets us know when we need to take action.
Your support means that we’ll be able to continue to work to protect our water. We can’t afford to let pollution, contamination and inaction from our government officials threaten our water, quality of life and local economy. Together, we’ll continue to make a difference in 2022.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SEND NOTICE OF IMPENDING LAWSUIT TO CITY OF BRADENTON FOR SEWAGE SPILLS TO THE MANATEE RIVER AND OTHER WATERWAYS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 11, 2021
Bradenton, FL - Suncoast Waterkeeper (“SCWK”), Our Children’s Earth Foundation (“OCE”), ManaSota-88, and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper (“TBWK”) have filed another Sixty-Day Notice of Violations of Clean Water Act and Notice of Intent to File Suit for serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) by the City of Bradenton, which has repeatedly sent raw and partially treated sewage into the Manatee River, storm drains, streams, neighborhoods, and local waters including Wares Creek, Palma Sola Creek, and Palma Sola Bay which flow into Lower Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
A 60-day notice is the required first step of filing a formal lawsuit in Federal Court. Today’s notice to Bradenton follows successful Clean Water Act municipal sewage enforcement cases resulting in settlements with St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Sarasota County and most recently, Largo. If no resolution is achieved within the 60-day timeframe, litigation will proceed.
Justin Bloom, founder and a board member of Suncoast Waterkeeper said, “Bradenton’s sewage woes are unfortunate and follow a familiar pattern of municipalities neglecting critical environmental infrastructure. We hope that Bradenton will follow the path of the other municipalities that we’ve sued and focus their attention of fixing the problems and reducing the sewage pollution that plagues our waterways.”
According to Bradenton’s own reports, within the last four years, over 160 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Manatee River, bypassing the City’s treatment plant. Most recently, the City bypassed 13 million gallons in August of 2021. The City’s sampling data confirms that its bypasses resulted in high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci in the Manatee River.
Similarly, during that time frame, the City has discharged millions more gallons of raw sewage from their aging sewage collection system, which is plagued by structural deficiencies. The result is excessive infiltration and inflow of stormwater and groundwater into sewage infrastructure during wet weather, causing repeated sewage spills that not only contain human waste, but also contain various toxic chemicals from the solvents, detergents, cleansers, inks, pesticides, paints, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals discarded by households and businesses into local waterways.
“Bradenton’s sewage spills pose a serious public health risk in exposing members of the public to sewage-borne pathogens and various toxic pollutants,” said Annie Beaman of Our Children’s Earth. “This pollution also harms aquatic wildlife and degrades fragile ecosystems. The Manatee River cannot take it, and people deserve clean water. It is time for the City to prioritize water quality. If we invest in clean water now, we can avoid much higher costs to people and the environment in the future.”
These spills contribute to declining conditions in our region’s waterways. The City of Bradenton’s persistent exceedances of its allocation for Total Nitrogen, its repeated bypasses of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage, and its sanitary sewer overflows of raw and partially treated sewage and reclaimed water have contributed to seagrass losses and to increased harmful algal blooms or “HABs” in the Tampa and Sarasota Bay Estuaries. The harmful toxins produced as a result of HABs give rise to severe human health consequences, economic and social impacts, as well as harm to the environment.
“We just endured an incredibly difficult summer, where we witnessed Red Tide kill large quantities of marine life. If we don’t fix these problems, we’re likely to endure more pain in perpetuity. Red Tide and contamination is hurting our local economy, much of which relies on our waterways, said Glenn Compton, Chairman of ManaSota-88. “We have to do better for our quality of life and for future generations.”
"These repeat spills have repercussions that affect all of Tampa Bay." said Megan Eakins, Board Chair of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. "We hope to be a part of the solution in finding ways to mitigate unnecessary nutrient loads and reduce pollution flowing into our waterways."
Download the Release Here
For more information, please contact:
Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper
(941) 275-2922, [email protected]
Glenn Compton, ManaSota-88
(941) 966-6256, [email protected]
Annie Beaman, Our Children’s Earth Foundation
(510) 910-4535, [email protected]
Lawsuit Launched Against Manatee County Over Proposal to Inject Toxic Waste From Piney Point Phosphogypsum Stack Into Aquifer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fl — Conservation groups sent a notice today of their intent to sue Manatee County for its plan to inject toxic pollutants from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into the lower Floridan aquifer.
The notice letter comes six months after the near collapse of the radioactive gypstack prompted state officials to order the emergency evacuation of hundreds of Manatee County homes and to authorize the discharge of wastewater from Piney Point into Tampa Bay.
The 215 million gallons of discharged wastewater spread throughout the estuary and into Sarasota Bay, transporting tons of nitrogen and other pollutants into waterways and communities and spurring a red-tide bloom that killed thousands of tons of marine life, including sea turtles and manatees.
Now Manatee County seeks to inject the remaining waste from the Piney Point gypstack into the lower Floridan aquifer.
“This risky, shortsighted plan would be a dangerous experiment and set a troubling precedent for how we handle failing phosphogypsum stacks,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently approved the expansion of the sinkhole-prone New Wales gypstack, deepening Florida’s commitment to living with these toxic waste sites for generations. It’s easy to envision them granting another deepwell injection permit the next time something else goes wrong.”
Under the Manatee County proposal Piney Point’s radioactive waste would be injected underground into the fragile, porous karst geology that holds the groundwater supplies millions of Floridians depend on for drinking water.
Piney Point was a problematic phosphate fertilizer plant that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County Port Authority turned into a disposal site for dredge material. After the owner abandoned the property, the department owned and operated Piney Point from 2001 to 2004. During that time, it oversaw the installation of inadequate liners and approved the use of Piney Point for dredged material storage, despite knowing that the gypstacks were not engineered structures and at risk of failure due to foundation settling.
“The phosphate industry and FDEP continue to fail to ensure safe disposal of the industry’s polluted waste,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and board member. “Manatee County shouldn’t ‘carry their water’ at Piney point, particularly where there is no plan to remove legacy toxic and radioactive contaminants before dumping millions of gallons of wastewater down the well.”
The fertilizer industry creates more than 30 million tons of phosphogypsum in Florida each year. Phosphogypsum is radioactive and can contain uranium, thorium and radium, which decay into carcinogenic radon. In addition to these radioactive carcinogens, phosphogypsum and process water can contain heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.
This waste is stored in mountainous piles called gypstacks that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. More than 1 billion tons of the radioactive and toxic waste have already been stored in 25 stacks scattered throughout Florida. The stacks are perched precariously atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. Both active and inactive gypstacks have impoundments of process wastewater sitting atop the mountain of waste.
“There are many problems associated with deepwell injection: Wells are subject to failure and there are too many unknown hazards with injecting phosphogypsum wastewater,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88. “Deepwell injection is done because liquid wastes cannot be discharged into surface waters, thus the worst wastes end up in these wells.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is accepting comments on Manatee County’s deepwell injection request until its hearing on Oct. 6.
“Florida’s officials are gambling with our water quality and our children’s futures,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of the Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “Manatee County’s proposal relies on guesswork regarding the long-term risks of injecting this dangerous pollution deep underground. For too long, the phosphate industry has taken advantage of lax regulations, bankruptcy laws that unfairly benefit corporate interests, and other legal loopholes. We need better.”
“It is both unlawful and unwise for Manatee County to inject Piney Point’s hazardous waste into the ground simply for the sake of expediency,” said Daniel Snyder, an attorney with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C., who is representing the groups. “For too long, Florida regulators have stood by while the situation at Piney Point deteriorated. Now, instead of directly cleaning up this environmental disaster and abating the endangerment it poses, regulators decide to sweep the problem under the geologic rug, putting Florida’s groundwater at risk of significant contamination.”
“There are too many unknowns for this to be our way forward,” said Megan Eakins, board chair of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. “We need more clarity about injection well risks, the composition of the waste stream, and alternatives to be sure that this is the best way to protect our vulnerable environment and communities from this toxic, radioactive waste.”
In June the groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority for the April release of hundreds of tons of hazardous pollutants from Piney Point into Tampa Bay and groundwater.