A state of emergency has been declared in the county of Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas following a major leak at a wastewater facility in Tampa Bay. Hundreds of people have been forced to flee their homes as crews desperately attempt to drain the 480 million-gallon containment located at the site of an unused phosphate plant. Manatee County public safety officials and emergency crews have been deployed to the Piney Point facility since March 30.
At a press conference on Sunday, Governor DeSantis confirmed water levels in the 73-acre reservoir had been reduced to 340 million gallons, but warned it “could breach in totality in a period of minutes”.
He added the drainage operation would continue and crews were on hand to respond to “a real catastrophic flood situation”.
The water is being transferred using around 20 pumps at a rate of 35 million gallons per day.
It is then being carefully discharged into the Port Manatee – located in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Governor DeSantis reassured residents the water at the disused chemical plant is not radioactive and is being tested before entering the Gulf.
He said the reservoir is mostly made up of saltwater but raised concerns over traces of phosphorus and nitrogen.
Governor DeSantis said: “Yesterday, due to potential of a breach of the south reservoir in Piney Point facility, I issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Manatee, as well as in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties due to the proximity of these counties to the Eastport Terminal facility.
“And what we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation. Controlled discharges began on March 30 and continued today.
“The controlled discharges are averaging about 35 million gallons per day.
“Manatee County public safety officials sent out evacuation notices to residents and businesses in the surrounding area and assisted with the evacuation of 316 homes that were in the evacuation zone near Piney Point.
“To be clear, the water being discharged to Port Manatee is not radioactive. It is primarily saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project, mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff. The water was tested prior to discharges.
“The primary concern is nutrients. The water meets water quality standards for marine waters, with the exception primarily of the phosphorus and the nitrogen.”
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The state accounts for around 80 percent of the national phosphate mining activity.
Across the US around 23 million tons of phosphate is mined and is most commonly used in fertiliser.
Scott Hopes, Manatee County administrator, said he believed it would take around 10-12 days to drain the water in a controlled manner.
He added it was unlikely that officials would seek to repair a liner in the reservoir and suggest a permanent solution, such as capping the containment, could be used in the future.