Florida crews working to prevent ‘Catastrophic’ flood situation in Manatee County phosphate mine

Governor Ron DeSantis addressing the Piney Point water situation – Courtesy: Chris O’Meara/AP

A significant toxic wastewater leak was discovered last week Friday at a former phosphate plant located at Piney Point in Manatee County.

After the leak was discovered, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the entire county and ordered the evacuation of more than 300 homes on Saturday after officials warned that the toxic wastewater reservoir had the potential of flooding nearby homes with upwards up 20 feet if it collapsed.

Courtesy: Gov. Ron DeSantis Twitter

The Piney Point Reservoir sits in a critical part of the state and lies roughly 40 miles south of Tampa and 11 miles north of Bradenton. 

Authorities began working to drain the water from the pond and empty it into the nearby Port Manatee Bay to mitigate the risk of a potential collapse. The water being dumped into the bay was not deemed to be a “concern” and “meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen,” according to The Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

The Associated Press reported that the ponds in the reservoir “sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer.”

Manatee County public safety officials said the reservoir’s retaining wall shifted laterally causing a potential total structural collapse. If the wall were to give out, an estimated 600 million gallons of the wastewater could leave the retention pool within minutes, they added. 

Gov. DeSantis noted that officials were working to bring additional pumps to the scene to assist in the draining which pulls 22,000 gallons of water per minute or 33 million per day. 

 This map shows the Piney Point plant at the lower right, with the discharge lines leading to Port Manatee, at the left
Overhead satellite view of Piney Point Reservoir dumping into Port Manatee Courtesy: Florida Department Of Environmental Protection

While officials continue to bring pumps to the scene to assist in the draining, others have tried to plug the leak with rocks and other sediments but have yet to be successful.

As of Sunday, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representative was being sent to the Manatee County command center to provide additional guidance and assistance. 

Justin Bloom, founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper, a Sarasota-based nonprofit organization, said “We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear, but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource,” in a statement. 

Officials are still working to determine whether or not the nitrogen levels in the water will cause algae to grow faster and lead to potential blooms and polluted waters moving forward. 

“What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” said DeSantis after arriving at Piney Point and assessing the situation from a flyover of the plant. 

*A second possible breach was spotted at the reservoir, indicating the central Florida wastewater plant is on the brink of collapse.*

*Possible second reservoir breach was ruled out after further investigation.*

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