The emotion of potato farmer Alan Jones spoke volumes Tuesday as he addressed the Manatee County commission about a plan to inject toxic water into the aquifer.
"I've invested my life," he said, choking back tears. "And many people in this room have invested their life on the value of that natural resource."
The proposed plan involved Piney Point just off U.S. 41 where an abandoned phosphate mine is holding 800 million to 1.2 billion gallons of contaminated water, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The ponds holding the water are at risk of breaking down.
A DEP official told commissioners, “These ponds are like tubs, and they are old and leaky and we just can’t take the chance.”
According to the DEP, if the ponds break down and spill, the contaminated water could leach into the aquifer and possibly into Tampa Bay, causing a major environmental disaster.
The solution that works for the company that owns the mine – HRK, which is now in bankruptcy – is for the county to drill a deep well into the aquifer, far below where drinking water comes from, and pump the bad water into the ground.
The DEP official acknowledged that although the agency has more than 200 deep-discharge wells in the state, it has never used one to get rid of this kind of contaminated water.
That has Jones worried.
"We're smarter than just putting (it) down the aquifer and hoping for the best,” he said.
The commission agreed to look into other solutions and meet again. No date has been set for that meeting.