A Preventable Disaster: Uncovering the Failures That Led to Piney Point
In the spring of 2021, the Piney Point disaster released approximately 215 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay, damaging the bay and slowing its recovery. Suncoast Waterkeeper, along with other environmental organizations, has taken legal action against the property owner, HRK Holdings, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to demand accountability and ensure the safe closure of Piney Point.
The Piney Point disaster was a preventable catastrophe that resulted from ignored permit conditions and inadequate water management. This failure has jeopardized the health and safety of the local environment, aquatic species, and communities that rely on Tampa Bay's waters.
Suncoast Waterkeeper joined with Center for Biological Diversity, Manasota-88, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper and Our Children’s Earth Foundation to sue the property owner, HRK Holdings, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to demand accountability and the safe closure of Piney Point.
"We hope to persuade the Court that the closure plan is fundamentally flawed and inadequate and that we should be allowed to continue with the litigation to ensure a full and thorough closure that complies with the law, along with transparency, court oversight, and accountability," said Justin Bloom, founder and Vice-Chair of Suncoast Waterkeeper.
In addition to the flawed closure plan, the newly drafted National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Piney Point has no interim limits on total nitrogen or phosphorous and other pollutants. Without such limits, multiple tons of total nitrogen per year can discharge into the bay, far exceeding the allocation of 0.9 tons per the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC) set by the state. Suncoast Waterkeeper and plaintiff partners are urging the EPA to enforce the 0.9-ton nitrogen allocation now, not at the end of the 5-year interim period.
Piney Point has already impacted Tampa Bay and beyond. A study confirms that impacts of Piney Point are being felt at least 30 miles away in St. Joseph Sound (the study's reference site). When investigating where the nutrients from Piney Point's emergency discharge went, the authors saw the water's isotopic signature in St. Joseph Sound. The authors also concluded that some nutrients released during the 2021 emergency are being stored in sediments across the region, which they acknowledge will be an issue for water quality for years.
The draft permit, the first NPDES permit in over 20 years for the site, does not consider Piney Point's legacy of pollution and provides them with a blank check to continue discharging waters with extremely high nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations for at least the next five years. Nutrient pollution must be limited NOW to protect water quality in receiving waters and Tampa Bay.
You can view the draft permit and our filed comments by clicking this link.
Suncoast Waterkeeper has been actively working to address the Piney Point disaster and prevent future incidents. We have taken several actions, including
- Partnering with other environmental organizations to file lawsuits against responsible parties, demanding accountability and a safe closure plans
- Suing to get a Clean Water Act NPDES permit issued.
- Providing comments to the Department of Environmental Protection and engaging with the press and public officials to raise awareness about the ongoing crisis
- Monitoring and documenting water quality changes in Tampa Bay to track the impact of the disaster and support the bay's recovery.
Through our tireless efforts, Suncoast Waterkeeper aims to ensure that the rights of Floridians to clean, fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters are protected and that future environmental disasters like Piney Point are averted.