Florida crews are pumping wastewater into Tampa Bay to avoid a full reservoir breach: What we know

SARASOTA, Fla. – Environmental officials in Florida last week approved the pumping of wastewater from a reservoir into the Tampa Bay ecosystem. A leak in the liner of the reservoir has caused a partial breach in one of the containment walls and officials hope that pumping more than 30 million gallons of wastewater out of the reservoir will relieve pressure on the walls and reduce the chance of an uncontrolled major breach.

More than 300 hundred homes and multiple businesses have been evacuated in the area around Piney Point, a former phosphate plant.

State and local officials are coordinating efforts and a state of emergency has been declared by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Officials have expressed concern about a full breach of the reservoir, with nearby residents at one point Saturday receiving an emergency alert text instructing them to leave the area immediately because the collapse was “imminent.”

Here’s what we know Monday about the situation at Piney Point.

Previously: Officials fear ‘uncontrolled’ breach of Florida wastewater reservoir; hundreds evacuated

The water of Tampa Bay near Port Manatee. Millions of gallons of industrial wastewater are being pumped into Tampa Bay as the result of a leak at the Piney Point fertilizer plant processing plant. (Photo: MIKE LANG/HERALD-TRIBUNE)

What are the latest efforts to avert a breach at Piney Point?

Gov. DeSantis has mobilized state resources to fend off a potentially catastrophic spill of hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted industrial wastewater from the former Piney Point fertilizer processing plant into nearby homes and businesses by working to double the speed at which wastewater is being dumped into Tampa Bay.

What’s the status of evacuations due to Piney Point?

More than 300 households and multiple businesses have been evacuated from the area surrounding Piney Point. Some have been provided with accommodation by Manatee County and the Red Cross.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office announced that they were moving 345 inmates of the nearby Manatee County Jail to an undisclosed location, in order to clear the ground floor of the facility in case of flooding.

Dr. Scott Hopes, acting Manatee County administrator, said that there is now below 300 million gallons of water left to be pumped from the leaking reservoir, during the Piney Point Wastewater Release press conference held at Manatee County's Public Safety Department in Bradenton, Florida, on Sunday afternoon, April 4, 2021. (Photo: THOMAS BENDER/HERALD-TRIBUNE)

At a Saturday press conference with DeSantis, Manatee County Acting Administrator Scott Hopes said that if there is a full breach of the walls at the damaged Piney Point reservoir, models show that “as high as a 20-foot wall of water” could surge into the area.

“So if you are in an  evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice and follow the orders,” Hopes said.

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