Officials said Monday there is no second breach in a Florida wastewater reservoir containment wall that is in danger of collapsing, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Earlier Monday, an infrared drone detected a possible second breach in the containment wall of the Piney Point wastewater pond, officials said – creating what the governor has called a “real catastrophic flood situation.”
But the Florida DEP said in an afternoon update the technical working group that includes engineers and dam safety specialists from a host of different state, federal and other third-party groups determined the site was safe for continued work.
Officials also confirmed the water is not radioactive.
The leak in the containment wall was discovered about a week ago. Residents in the area, about 20 miles south of Tampa, were evacuated as officials warned the containment wall could collapse at any time.
The Manatee County Public Safety Department declared a state of emergency Saturday. Besides the flooding danger, the leak could have also caused a collapse of phosphogypsum stacks, radioactive waste that is created during fertilizer production and phosphate rock mining.
Manatee County took the precaution of transporting 267 inmates Sunday night to a correctional facility in nearby Polk County, said Randy Warren, the spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Pumping efforts increased
At a news conference Monday, officials said they expect to ramp up their efforts to pump the water as the day goes on.
“By the end of the day today, when the additional pumps come online, we will more than double the volume of water that we’re pulling out of that retention pool,” acting County Administrator Scott Hopes said.
“We should be looking at anywhere from 75 to 100 million gallons a day by the end of the day.”
US Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican whose district includes Manatee County, said Monday the leak could have a significant environmental impact on the area in terms of algae blooms.
“I’ve been following red tide for 20 years – you know, that can have a big impact on all of Florida,” he said. “It gets back to public safety and marine life, and we see these manatees dying, and what it does to small businesses and restaurants and everything else.”
Buchanan said he wants the problem “fixed permanently, because this is something that’s been going on for a long time.”
State environmental officials said in a statement Saturday that “while this water meets most water quality standards for marine waters, there are elevated levels of nutrients and the water is acidic.”
Governor warns of a ‘catastrophic flood situation’
After an aerial tour Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said response teams are trying to prevent a “real catastrophic flood situation” in the Piney Point reservoir area.
The governor assured the public that the water being discharged to nearby Port Manatee, on the Gulf Coast, is not radioactive.
“What we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said.
“The goal is to ensure the integrity of the stack system as quickly as possible in order to minimize impacts to local residents and to prevent an uncontrolled discharge.”