From the Miami Herald:
Manatee County remained under a state of emergency Sunday as federal, state and local officials worked to control a leak at a former phosphate processing plant that threatens to contaminate the area with millions of gallons of polluted water.
A worst-case scenario could send 20 feet of contaminated water flooding from the site, Acting Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said Sunday during a news briefing with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A total breach that spurts out uncontrolled water could also destabilize gypsum stacks containing radioactive material.
But by Sunday afternoon, officials appeared more confident that the risk of a major disaster could be dramatically lower by Tuesday with the help of additional resources from the state to drain the leaking pond.
Evacuation order and potential flooding
Crews on Friday found a breach in the site’s largest pond, which originally contained about 480 million gallons of water. Because of potential flooding, an emergency evacuation was ordered in the area, and it has been expanded to more than 300 homes. U.S. 41 remains closed to traffic to Moccasin Wallow Road.
“The models for less than an hour could be a 20-foot wall of water,” Hopes said. “If you’re in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice.”
Hopes also said that current models show one to five feet of flooding as more likely. And officials say they remain optimistic that an increase in a controlled water release from the site, strategically pumped into the port and to Tampa Bay, can prevent disaster.
A controlled release of untreated water from the site and into Tampa Bay continues at a rate of 33-35 million gallons a day, and additional pumps were set to “nearly double” the capacity of water leaving the site by Monday morning. The Florida National Guard said two of its helicopters placed two pumps at a berm to help lower the pond water level.
Water is also escaping the pond through an uncontrolled discharge that is draining north into Piney Point Creek, which connects through Cockroach Bay to Tampa Bay. As of Friday, that leak had a rate of about 40-50 gallons a minute, according to a pollution notice site owner HRK Holdings, LLC submitted to FDEP.
Roads, bridges, schools, and all the other nice things that President Biden is proposing are great; they will definitely be needed. But so is fixing old and leaky storage ponds like this, not to mention other items like old dams in national parks; I was in Estes Park, Colorado, in July 1982 when the Lawn Lake dam burst in Rocky Mountain National Park and flooded out the town in about half an hour.
Lives and fortunes are at stake.