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USF researchers use models to predict travel of Piney Point pollutants

The models will help predict how the nutrient-rich wastewater dumped into Port Manatee will disperse throughout the bay.

ST. PETERSBURG — Where the wastewater discharged from Piney Point into Tampa Bay will go and how long it will take to disperse are questions Bob Weisberg is trying to answer.

The University of South Florida College of Marine Science professor, with his team in the Ocean Circulation Group, are developing forecast models to predict the polluted water’s movement. The models are based on tides, winds and river inflows.

“It’s moving around with the tides and the winds and is slowly spreading,” Weisberg said. “Now we’re really concerned with what the concentrations will be going into the future.”

Like a weather forecast model, Weisberg says these models can help guide researchers to where they should be testing for water quality and other measures. The brighter colors denote higher concentrations of nutrients in the water.

More than 200 million gallons of untreated, nutrient-rich wastewater from a leaking reservoir at the site of the former Piney Point phosphate plant were discharged into the bay to avoid what officials said could’ve been a catastrophic collapse.