U.S. emergency crews seek to prevent 'catastrophic flood' at wastewater reservoir

A reservoir of an old phosphate plant the site of a breach which is leaking polluted water into the surrounding area prompting an evacuation order in Manatee County is seen in an aerial

Manatee County in Florida was under a state of emergency over the weekend and more than 300 homes were ordered evacuated over a leak at a wastewater reservoir.

Manatee County officials said the latest models show that a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir has the potential to gush out 340 million gallons of water in a matter of minutes, risking a 20ft wall of water.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told a press conference on Saturday that there were concerns the water could flood the area, which is mostly agricultural. Some families were placed in local hotels.

A jail one mile away from the pond is not being evacuated but officials are moving people and staff to the second floor and putting sandbags on the ground floor.

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.

Controlled discharges from the reservoir of about 30 million gallons per day began on Tuesday, DeSantis said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency over the county Saturday.

"A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally, signifying that structural collapse could occur at any time", Manatee Director of Public Safety Jake Saur was quoted in a report.


County and state officials are now working to pump water out of the reservoir to reduce the quantity in the event of a breach.

"The water quality issues that are flowing from this for us is less than the risk of everyone's health and safety, particularly folks who may live in the area".

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein warned another pond has higher levels of metals. Therefore, again, the official said, this is not water they want to see leaving the site.

National conservation group the Center for Biological Diversity also released a statement calling for the US Environmental Protection Agency to intervene. For example, too much nitrogen in the water can lead to accelerated growth of algae and therefore the death of fish.

The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser.

A wall of contaminated water could flood the area if the breach in the pond at an old mine bursts.

Hopes said the plan is not to fix the damaged reservoir liner.

"For more than 50 years, this central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents", she wrote DeSantis in a letter about the Piney Point plant, which was originally constructed by Borden Chemical Company in 1966.

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