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Phosphate Mining
Fall 2020

It should not be a surprise that Manatee County is on the brink of a financial and environmental disaster, again. The holding ponds at the Piney Point Phosphogypsum stacks are nearing their capacity to hold contaminated water.

In a recent update to the Manatee Board of County Commission, HRK Holdings LLC, owners of the site, said Piney Point is holding about 750 million gallons of water and is operating at about 92 percent capacity. The site can only handle about 19 more inches of rainfall.

Although there are no long-term plans to get rid of the contaminated water, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, and a few of the Manatee County Commissioners appear to subscribe to the theory that the solution to pollution is injection. It is assumed the Piney Point effluent would migrate to the Gulf of Mexico, however, because there are no long-term plans to filter the wastewater, the necessary high-pressure injection will likely create new paths of migration.

There are many problems associated with deep well injection. All wells are subject to failure and there are too many unknowns to safely inject treated or partially treated effluent. The operation of a deep well relies very heavily on predictions and good faith.

Deep well injection is done because liquid wastes that cannot be discharged into surface waters are injected into deep wells, thus the worst wastes end up in these wells. If a failure occurs, very little can be done to correct it. If an aquifer is contaminated, it's too late.

Confining layers don't confine and effluents will ultimately migrate beyond the point of injection. Monitoring programs are mostly ineffective. Little is known of the chemistry and the biology of well-injected wastes, excepting that those wastes move underground.

The composition of underground aquifer formations is not always as uniform as scientific models would have us believe. Nevertheless, most studies of deep-well injected wastes are based upon such models.

While the models upon which decisions to inject wastes are based look good on paper, changing conditions in the aquifers can allow wastewater to seep into the ground-water supply, and it would be too late then, to correct the problem.

Over the long term, it will be cheaper to treat the Piney Point Phosphate wastewater to advanced water quality standards rather than trying to dump wastes out of sight and finding later that serious pollution problems have occurred.


The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) is available on the district’s website for public comment. The comment period ends July 15, 2020 at 5 p.m. On-line public workshops are also planned June 24th and June 30th. The final plan will be presented to the Governing Board in November.

Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) water supply plan is deficient in many areas. The plan makes unrealistic water availability projections based on unproven alternative water sources, fails to consider the environmental cost and adverse impacts associated with the continued over permitting of the District’s consumptive use water permits, does little to improve the water quality of those waterways currently identified as non-compliant with state water quality standards, and considers future surface and ground water withdrawals that may severely impact Wild and Scenic Waters and Outstanding Florida Waters within the region.

By adopting a long-range water supply plan that does not effectively implement the regulatory powers given SWFWMD, protection of water resources cannot possibly occur in the future. It is regrettable that in the rush to obtain water for future residential development, SWFWMD is considering a Water Resource Plan that will ultimately result in irreversible and needless damage to the water resources of the region.

Portions of the Southwest Florida Water Management District have already been developed beyond the capability of existing resources to support sustainable growth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the inability of some of Southwest Florida's areas to provide affordable drinking water for their present population and for those future residents who will occupy thousands of existing platted lots. The cost of development in our region continues to be borne by existing area residents.

In a plan to overcome this deficiency, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is relying heavily on the Peace River, a source for the regions industrial waste discharges and runoff from phosphate mining operations upstream.

Local governments are permitting areas that presently have inadequate water supplies to continue to develop. The adverse impacts of this practice are enormous.

The energy costs to shuffle water "overloads" from one body of water to another will be extremely high. During times of local water shortages, it can be anticipated counties with water will be required to furnish water to other counties.

Problems of water quality and quantity exist to some degree throughout our region now.

With the region's underground water supplies in jeopardy; with the wholesale destruction of the surficial aquifer that has and will occur in Hardee, DeSoto and Manatee Counties if all phosphate mining proposed is permitted; with the proposed use of sand-clay mix reclamation after mining which drastically lessens the transitivity of the soil; and with the continued destruction of our wetlands, prospects of adequate future groundwater resources are uncertain.

Rather than implementing a regional water supply plan that will act as an impetus to growth, it would seem more prudent for local governments to face up to the problems caused by their unlimited growth policies.

The use of water conservation practices in agricultural, urban and industrial areas with water shortage problems should be required and the amount of development permitted should be based on the utilization of water from the local hydrologic basin rather than the costly, energy intensive transfer of water between hydrologic basins.

The general public is paying the cost for development of new water sources. Land developers and growth interests are receiving a direct subsidy through publicly financed infrastructure expansion. The public pays the cost not only in monetary terms but in adverse impacts to the natural resources.