Florida Reservoir Emergency Threatens '20-Foot Wall of Water'

Tampa Bay Area Florida

As of Sunday, it held about 300 million gallons.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Sunday press conference that crews are working to prevent "a real catastrophic flood situation".

A wastewater reservoir in Manatee County, Florida, started leaking last week, and over the weekend, officials declared a state of emergency and warned that a "20-foot wall of water" could be unleashed.

The Manatee County Public Safety Department said in an alert there is an "imminent threat" of uncontrolled release of wastewater from the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Palmetto.

A jail one mile away from the pond is not being evacuated but officials are moving people and staff to the second floor and putting sandbags on the ground floor.

Manatee County's acting administrator Scott Hopes said authorities were looking to permanently empty reservoirs at the site.

The state-run Protecting Florida Together, website said the leak had been reported on March 26. On Friday, a significant leak was detected that escalated the response and prompted the first evacuations and a state of emergency declaration on Saturday.

Part of the reservoir's retaining wall has shifted, raising the prospect of a complete structural collapse which would see 600 million gallons of water gushing into the surrounding area within minutes. Now about 22,000 gallons of water are being discharged per minute, and Hopes said he expects the risk of collapse to decrease by Tuesday.

The Florida governor said a possible flood is a bigger concern than the quality of water.

It would be environmentally disastrous in western Florida's ecologically sensitive Tampa Bay estuary, home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and marine life including manatees and dolphins.

"I have also deployed the National Guard and they are in the process of dropping off additional pumps via aircraft on top of the berms, to help decrease the water levels in the Piney Point reservoir at an even faster pace".

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a coordinator on the scene to work with emergency management and provide support as necessary, said EPA spokeswoman Brandi Jenkins.

DeSantis vowed to hold HRK Holdings, the owners of the property, accountable for the failure.

Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of fertilizer production and is considered weakly radioactive as it contains naturally occurring isotopes such as radon.

A wall of contaminated water could flood the area if the breach in the pond at an old mine bursts.

"This is my community, too", Barath said.

"For more than 50 years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents", Fried wrote.

"We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear", said Justin Bloom of the group, Suncoast Waterkeeper.

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