Published: Mon, April 05, 2021

Florida works to avoid 'catastrophic' collapse of wastewater pond

Florida works to avoid 'catastrophic' collapse of wastewater pond

A significant leak at a large pond of wastewater threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores polluted waters.

More than 300 homes in the area have been ordered to be evacuated, and a motorway near the Piney Point reservoir has been closed off.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says a break was detected on Friday in one of the walls of a 33ha pond that has a depth of 8m and holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

The pond where the leak was discovered contains stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer, according to the Associated Press.

Attempts to fix the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful.

© Provided by New York Daily News Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said the models show the area could be covered with between 30 centimetres to 1.5 metres of water, and the second floor is about three metres above ground. 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.

As a precaution, workers are trying to plug breaches in the reservoir as well as pumping out thousands of gallons of water to minimise the threat.

By declaring a state of emergency, funds can be released to send more pumps and cranes to the area.

The governor said officials are preparing for a full breach, but hope it doesn't happen.

"There have been numerous, well-documented failures - which continue today - of the property's reservoir liner, including leaks, poor welds, holes, cracks, and weaknesses that existed prior to purchase by the current owner, HRK Holdings, and exacerbated since", she writes. "So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site", he said. The water is also contaminated with metals like cadmium.

The water being discharged is mostly seawater from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said.

Hopes said he hoped the emergency would inspire a permanent fix for phosphate stacks following decades of neglect.

There are at least 70 gypsum stacks in the U.S. and about 27 in Florida, mostly in the region of west-central Florida.

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