Floridians were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday after they were forced to evacuate when a breach in a 79-acre reservoir containing sewage south of Tampa posed the threat of a collapse that could trigger a wall. of water of 20 feet.
The announcement came after officials spent Monday evaluating the possibility of a second breach at the leaking reservoir, which was ruled out at the end of the day.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Scott Hopes, the acting manager of Manatee County, said that due to the additional pumps and the diversion of water from an uncontrolled gap, residents could return to their homes. More than 300 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order.
“We believe the risk has been successfully mitigated and diminished,” Hopes said.
When the leak was reported on March 26, the reservoir, part of a system of ponds connected to a former phosphate mine in Piney Point, Florida, contained approximately 480 million gallons of sewage.
With the water volume at 340 million gallons on Sunday, Mr. Hopes cautioned that the models suggested that if the reservoir gave in at that volume, it could result in a cascading “20-foot wall of water” in residential and commercial areas. .
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday that about 303 million gallons of water remained in the reservoir and that as of Tuesday afternoon, about 165 million gallons had been discharged. The department also said the water in the area would be sampled to assess its quality.
At the news conference, Vanessa Baugh, president of the Manatee County Commission, said that the county board had unanimously authorized the use of a deep injection well on county property. That would give county commissioners full control over the well going forward and allow the county to dictate the quality of the water before it enters the well.
“In other words, North Manatee residents and business owners can rest easy,” Ms. Baugh said. “I am very pleased that the disruption to life, or life as usual in North Manatee, is minimal.”
Mr. Hopes said that while there were persistent concerns about the impact of the leak on the environment, the flow of the water appeared to be at a rate that officials hoped could be diluted and managed properly.
“We are very, very optimistic that we have been able to successfully minimize the impact,” Hopes said, adding that drinking water is safe. “I think everyone should be sure that this is now under control. The risk has been reduced. “
At the press conference, Hopes felt empathy for the residents who were forced to evacuate, but was grateful that there was not a major gap.
“It has been difficult for everyone involved. It has been stressful for the residents of Manatee County, ”Hopes said. “I hope that tonight many of us – I know I will – sleep better. In fact, I can sleep, and I’m sure others who have been involved. “