Piney Point Reservoir: State of Emergency Declared as Leak in Florida Wastewater Pond Threatens Total Collapse

The Piney Point wastewater reservoir in Florida is being drained into the ecosystem in order to prevent a major collapse.
The Piney Point wastewater reservoir in Florida is being drained into the ecosystem in order to prevent a major collapse.(WTSP)

While officials are optimistic about efforts to avoid disaster, activists are concerned about the potential environmental impact of pumping tens of millions of gallons of wastewater into the Port Manatee ecosystem.

A second leak in the Piney Point wastewater reservoir in Florida may have been detected by drone early Monday morning as Manatee County officials continue to pump tens of millions of gallons of wastewater into the Tampa Bay ecosystem to lessen the risk of a major collapse, officials said in a press conference. Officials estimate there is “just shy of 300 million gallons” of wastewater remaining in the pond, from the original amount of 480 million gallons, and federal agencies have been deployed to pump even more wastewater out of the reservoir and into the nearby bay at Port Manatee.

“They’re making some progress, but to see the water spewing out, and it looked pretty contaminated to me, so I continue to be concerned about this," Congressman Vern Buchanan said.

This comes after days of emergency warnings and evacuations of 316 families in response to a leak in the wastewater pond, which once housed a phosphate plant, that many believed would lead to a total collapse. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

The evacuation zone also encompasses Manatee County Jail, which has not fully evacuated. Instead, officials said that out of around 1,000 inmates, 345 will be moved to “an undisclosed secure location,” while the remaining 721 inmates will be moved to an upper level of the jail, citing security reasons, CBS News reported.

“[Officials] are feeling better with the progress to drain the stack,” the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said. “In the event of a collapse, we expect only about a foot of water making it onto jail property.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued temporary flight restrictions over the reservoir, and Manatee County schools announced Monday that school buses servicing the evacuation zone will be suspended.

While officials appear confident that progress is being made to keep the area safe, activists continue to be concerned at the environmental impact of pumping wastewater into the bay.

“I don’t know how much more these bays can take,” fishing guide Captain Justin Moore said, according to the Herald-Tribune. He and other fishermen are concerned that the release of wastewater will cause harmful algae bloom, and wildlife is already being impacted. “You can tell the fish are sensing it and moving away from it.”

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a Saturday statement that the wastewater is “radioactive waste” as a result of phosphate processing, and also contains “carcinogens and heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said however that the water “meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen. It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern,” NPR reported.

DeSantis also reassured the public that the water “is not radioactive,” he said in a Sunday press conference.

He and other officials said the concern is flooding, and Manatee County said in a Sunday press release that the drinking water is “completely safe to drink,” explaining that there is no way for the wastewater to contaminate the supply.

Federal agencies have delivered 100,000 bottles of water as needed.