April 11, 2021

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared a state of emergency after officials in Manatee County warned that if the damaged Piney Point wastewater reservoir experiences a full breach, hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water could surge into residential neighborhoods.

Piney Point sits on the site of a former phosphate plant, and holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen; officials say the water is as acidic as a cup of black coffee. On Friday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced a break had been found in one of the walls of the reservoir, and while trying to fix the problem on Saturday, workers determined there was danger of an imminent collapse.

To relieve pressure, two pipes are pumping thousands of gallons of water a minute from Piney Point into Tampa Bay, USA Today reports. Hundreds of people who live near the reservoir have been told to evacuate, and Manatee County Acting Administrator Scott Hopes on Sunday told reporters models show a full breach of the walls could cause “as high as a 20-foot wall of water.”

DeSantis on Sunday said officials are “trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation.” The site is owned by HRK Holdings, and DeSantis said the focus right now “is ensuring the safety of the community,” but his administration “is dedicated to full enforcement of any damages to our state’s resources and holding … HRK accountable for this event.”

Lorie Minallo lives just outside the evacuation area, and told USA Today little information is shared with local residents about leaks at the reservoir. The last one happened in 2011, and she wants to know “why is it still going on? Why hasn’t anybody stepped up and done anything? They are going to ruin everything out here in Tampa Bay, and all the property owners now. It’s just ridiculous.” Catherine Garcia

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