About 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater could pour out of the leaking catch basin in a six-foot-high wave in Florida's Manatee County. That's what modeling calculations by Manatee County officials have shown.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to prevent this environmental disaster. Currently, emergency personnel are pumping water out of the basin and discharging it into the sea in a controlled manner. This is to prevent the leak from becoming a dam burst.
The leak was discovered Apr. 2 at the wastewater pond located at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant. Officials warned about the potential for the reservoir's collapse to flood nearby areas, according to NPR.
Authorities in Florida two days later said that they were making progress in their efforts to drain the leaking reservoir, which holds more than 300 million gallons of wastewater, reported The New York Times. If it were to breach, however, it could result in a 20-foot wall of water, according to Scott Hopes, the acting administrator for Manatee County.
More than 300 houses have been evacuated, the National Guard is on duty. An adjacent prison has not been evacuated, US media report, but the inmates have been moved to higher floors. In the event of a disaster, the surrounding area could be under water up to one meter fifty high.
“The water being discharged from Piney Point is mixed sea water (primarily saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project, mixed with legacy process water and storm water runoff/rainfall,” according to The Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen. It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern.”
DeSantis said officials are working to bring in additional pumps to drain the reservoir and are pumping out 33 million gallons per day, reported NPR.
Manatee County is south of Tampa on the Gulf of Mexico. The wastewater contains elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen. If the water were to flow into Tampa Bay, there could be over-fertilization and increased growth of algae. There is also a risk of affecting other wastewater basins, some of which are contaminated with radioactive materials and heavy metals.