The Florida governor declared a state of emergency after a significant leak in a large sewage storage pond threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores contaminated water.
MIAMI – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a significant leak in a large sewage pond threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores contaminated water.
Florida authorities ordered the evacuation of more than 300 homes and the closure of a highway Saturday near the large reservoir in the Tampa Bay area north of Bradenton.
Residents living around the Piney Point Reservoir received an alert via text message telling them to leave the area immediately because the collapse was “imminent.” Authorities expanded the evacuation area later Saturday to include more homes, but said they did not plan to open shelters.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says a rupture was detected on Friday in one of the walls of a 77-acre (33-hectare) pond that is 25 feet (8 meters) deep and contains millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen. from an old phosphate plant.
Officials brought rocks and materials to plug the hole in the pond from Friday through Saturday, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said at a news conference Saturday that the most pressing concern is that water could flood the area, which he said was agricultural and sparsely populated.
“We’re talking about the potential of around 600 million gallons (2.3 billion liters) in a matter of seconds and minutes leaving that holding pool and going around the surrounding area,” said Hopes.
Workers have been pumping thousands of gallons per minute at the site to reduce volume in case the pond bursts. Pumping the entire pond would take 10-12 days. Others have been working to map the path to control how the water flows from the pond into Tampa Bay.
DeSantis’ declaration of a state of emergency assigns more pumps and cranes to the area. The owner, HRK Holdings, did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate mine, on top of a pile of phosphorous gypsum, a waste product from the manufacture of radioactive fertilizers. It contains small amounts of natural radium and uranium, and batteries can also release large concentrations of radon gas.
Hopes says that if the pond collapses, there is a risk that it could destabilize the walls of other areas of the plant.
“The pond is basically salt water. Yesterday we saw ducks, there are snook swimming there. Maintains wildlife. That is not the case for the other two ponds, ”he said, adding that the wastewater in the other ponds should be treated to reduce the content of ammonia and other materials.
The executive order declaring a state of emergency says the broken structure holds 480 million gallons (1.8 billion liters) of seawater mixed with process water and embankment materials from the old fertilizer manufacturing plant.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried urged the governor in a letter to convene an emergency session of the state cabinet to discuss a plan, adding that this property has had similar leaks in the past.
“The immediate evacuation of residents, the disruption of families over Easter weekend, and the potential environmental catastrophe require the attention and action of elected leaders throughout the state of Florida,” Fried said.
In 2016, more than 200 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from another fertilizer plant in central Florida leaked into one of the state’s major aquifers after a huge sinkhole opened in a pond from a phosphogypsum heap.
There are at least 70 gypsum piles in the United States and about 27 in Florida, primarily in west-central Florida. The sewage stored in the gypsum piles cannot be seen from the ground, as the piles surrounding the structure can reach up to 500 feet (150 meters).