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Florida on high alert as wastewater reservoir near collapse

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Parts of Florida remain in a state of emergency after a portion of a wastewater reservoir’s containment wall shifted laterally, risking a large-scale structural collapse that could release some 600 million gallons of contaminated wastewater.

As of April 4, the total quantity of water in the impacted compartment of the reservoir is approximately 306 million gallons, as it flows controlled into Piney Creek and Tampa Bay. Another 32 million gallons of water per day is being safely drawn down by pumps to drain into Tampa Bay from the top of the 79-acre pond.

The wastewater is believed to contain phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant. While some media reports suggested that the contaminated wastewater may be radioactive, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the water is only slightly acidic.

But, the water still poses a threat to safety and the local environment. Manatee County Acting Administrator Scott Hopes said at a Sunday press conference that if the water were released it could create “as high as a 20-foot wall of water.”

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Hundreds of nearby residents remain under an evacuation order, although there are no major residential areas near the reservoir.

“I want to thank the brave men and women who have been working literally around the clock to minimize any impacts that this situation may have for public safety,” said Manatee County Commission Chairperson Vanessa Baugh in a statement. “Led by our Public Works and Emergency Management teams, crews worked up until 2:30 a.m. today to try to reinforce the berm wall of the breached areas of the gyp stacks. Those efforts were, unfortunately, unsuccessful,” added Baugh.

The Piney Point phosphogypsum stacks — a fertilizer waste product — are owned by HRK Holdings, LLC and the environmental oversight falls to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Baugh said residents in north Manatee County in the evacuation area who rely on drinking wells for their water have no cause for concern at this time.

The state has deployed 20 pumps, 10 vacuum trucks and more than 100,000 bottles of water to the affected county. The Florida National Guard is working in unison with the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

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