Florida’s Manatee County is in a state of emergency and residents are being evacuated as a toxic sewer reservoir is on the verge of collapse. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said the crews are working to prevent “a truly catastrophic flood situation.”
Families in at least 316 homes were ordered to evacuate Saturday after officials warned that Piney Point Reservoir, about 40 miles south of Tampa, could flood homes with 15 to 20 feet of water if it collapses.
The reservoir contains a mixture of salt water, fresh water, sewage and fertilizer runoff. DeSantis made it clear on Sunday that the water is not radioactive after concerns the ponds are lying in piles of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive by-product from the manufacture of fertilizers.
Part of the reservoir’s retaining wall has been moved sideways, meaning a complete structural collapse is possible, Manatee County Public Safety officials said. In this case, 600 million gallons of water could potentially leak out of the retention basin in a few minutes.
A natural gas facility that powers millions in the region is also in the flood zone, creating additional concerns.
A local prison a mile from the leaking pond has not yet had to be evacuated, but officials are moving people upstairs and putting sandbags on the floor. Scott Hopes, Manatee County administrator, said the area could be flooded with several feet of water.
The crews are now working to get the water out of the reservoir as quickly as possible, but it could take more than a week. About 22,000 gallons of water are drained every minute, and Hopes anticipates the risk of collapse will occur in a few days.
According to official reports, the Environmental Protection Agency is sending a representative to the command center in Manatee County.
“We hope the contamination isn’t as bad as we fear, but we are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that depend on this valuable resource,” said Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit Organization Suncoast Waterkeeper, in a statement.