Florida reservoir could release 20-foot ‘wall of water’

Wastewater retention pond

The imminent collapse of a wastewater reservoir near Tampa, Fla., could unleash a 20-foot “wall of water,” state officials warned Sunday — as they urged residents in the potential flood’s path to heed an evacuation order.

Authorities issued the dire warning as federal, state and local workers continued to race against time to contain the breach at the Piney Point Stack, first detected Friday at a defunct phosphate processing plant in Manatee County.

“The models for less than an hour could be a 20-foot wall of water,” said acting county administrator Scott Hopes during a Sunday press briefing, outlining a worst-case scenario, according to The Bradenton Herald. “If you’re in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice.”

Still, Hopes noted that models show flooding of 1- to 5 feet as more likely.

An emergency evacuation order has been issued to residents of more than 300 homes, while a stretch of nearby US Highway 41 remains closed as a precaution.

Currently, workers are undertaking a controlled release of water from the reservoir in an attempt to mitigate damage, should it eventually burst on its own.

Officials are worried about the “imminent” collapse of a retention pond holding hundreds of millions gallons of wastewater.
Misty Servia via Storyful

The massive pond originally contained about 480 million gallons of water, while the pumping effort is removing about 33 million gallons per day, according to the Herald.

“Evacuate area NOW,” the Manatee County Public Safety office warned in a Saturday alert. “Collapse of Piney Point Stack Imminent!”

While still stressing caution, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday clarified to area residents that the water is not radioactive, as initially feared.

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Aerial photo of a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine.
Radioactive gypsum in the ponds could become destabilized in the event of a flood.

“It is primarily salt water from the Port Manatee dredge project mixed with legacy process water and storm water runoff,” the Republican said, speaking during the same briefing as Hopes. “The water was tested prior to discharge. The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with exception primarily of the phosphorous and the nitrogen.”

But while the water itself is not radioactive, the Piney Point site does contain stocks of radioactive gypsum, which could become destabilized in the event of a flood, according to the Bradenton Herald.

the old Piney Point phosphate mine
The Piney Point site does contain stocks of radioactive gypsum, which could become destabilized in the event of a flood.

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