Published: Tue, April 06, 2021
Science | By

Florida Works to Avoid 'Catastrophic' Pond Collapse

Florida Works to Avoid 'Catastrophic' Pond Collapse

"What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation", DeSantis said at a press conference after flying over the old Piney Point phosphate mine.

This aerial photo taken from an airplane shows a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, Saturday, April 3, 2021 in Bradenton, Fla.

Fried details in her letter how previously-known poor maintenance by current and former phosphate mine owners have created a risky situation for local residents, communities and even state-managed lands and waters.

Florida officials are urging residents in the surrounding areas of a wastewater storage pond to heed evacuation orders ahead of a potential overflow of polluted water.

Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur said that the 480-million gallon wastewater reservoir had been leaking for days but by 10:30 a.m. engineers "deemed the situation to be escalating", prompting DeSantis to declare a state of emergency. Manatee County officials said in an emergency alert sent to area residents late on Saturday.

Since the initial discovery, the site has been leaking 22,000 gallons a minute, said acting County Administrator Scott Hopes.

The water being discharged is mostly seawater from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern".

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily saltwater mixed with wastewater and stormwater.

The Governor declared a state of emergency for Manatee County Saturday morning in response to the crisis.

Hopes, the county administrator, said Sunday that with new state resources, crews will be almost doubling the amount of water being pumped out of the pond and taken to Port Manatee.

The concerns for the quality of the water being discharged are now "less than the risk of everyone's health and safety" due to the potential for flooding, DeSantis said Sunday.

Hopes said the plan is not to fix the damaged reservoir liner. The water running out on its own is going to Piney Point creek and into Cockroach Bay, an aquatic preserve in the Tampa Bay north of the facility. "This is not acceptable and it's not something we will allow to persist", he said. "So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site", he said. The water meets "water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen", according to the Florida DEP.

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.

The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid, radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer.

By leaking into Tampa Bay, which has already occurred and will increase with a full collapse, the excess nutrients could cause algal blooms, which lead to red tide, environmentalists warn.

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