SARASOTA, Fla. – Crews continued to pump sewage from a retention basin into Tampa Bay on Tuesday to prevent a catastrophic rupture that could throw a massive wall of water into the area.
Last week, the Florida Department of Environment approved the pumping of industrial wastewater from a retention basin at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant, in response to the plant’s second leak in a decade. The wastewater is about as acidic as black coffee and contains increased amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, which can feed the algae that cause red tide.
After pumping more than 30 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay every day, the amount of water in the Piney Point Retention Basin has dropped below 300 million gallons, compared to approximately 480 million gallons last week at the time.
Officials on Tuesday hoped the threat of a complete breakthrough of the Piney Point Reservoir walls would pass by the end of the day.
More than 300 homes and several businesses in the Piney Point area have now been evacuated. The state of emergency was declared by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the counties of Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas.
Visual explainer: How crews pumped sewage in Tampa Bay to prevent ruptures and flooding in Florida
Here’s what we know on Tuesday:
How has the risk of a complete reservoir rupture developed?
Manatee County officials on Tuesday hoped they can state by the end of the day on Tuesday that the immediate Piney Point crisis is over and that a break in a sewer retention basin wall on the old fertilizer facility’s property no longer exists at risk of escalation a catastrophic breach that would flood the surrounding properties.
“We will most likely be able to report that we are getting out of this critical period of potential full violations to achieve something that is far better contained, and the risk will be lower this afternoon at the speed we are doing Go ahead, ”Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told the County Commission on Tuesday.
Engineers have pumped large amounts of water out of the sewage pond to relieve pressure on the breakthrough in the pond wall. Hopes said the risk of the wall collapsing is decreasing.
“It doesn’t get worse, which is good news,” said John Truitt, assistant secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tuesday morning.
Truitt said new pumps should be running on Tuesday to divert wastewater from the pond.
Map: See the Florida sewer leak
Is there a second injury in the Piney Point retention basin?
While the leaky sewer pond wall at the old Piney Point fertilizer facility site continues to be a critical situation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection proved unfounded on Monday.
Manatee County officials said a drone with thermal imaging devices detected a possible second breakthrough in the wall at 2 a.m. on Monday. A later investigation found that the identified area was not another wall failure, according to the department.
“Our technical team and engineers came in and assessed and determined that there was no second violation,” said department spokeswoman Shannon Herbon.
What is the environmental impact of pumping sewage into Tampa Bay?
Environmental groups fear that the recent spills from a sewage treatment plant in Piney Point could ultimately trigger an algal bloom that could affect southwest Florida.
Nutrient-rich water from the treatment plant will balance the natural balance in the estuaries and eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico, where the red tide sets in.
The region was partially crippled during a 17-month red tide bloom that began in fall 2017 and lasted through spring 2019.
More:Piney Point waters can fuel harmful algal blooms along the coast in southwest Florida
State and district officials are looking for ways to purify the water and prevent it from being discharged into Tampa Bay.
Hopes, the Manatee County’s administrator, said he worked with a company that can store 150 million gallons in portable tanks that can be shipped overnight from Pennsylvania and Texas.
Hopefully there is also discussion about pumping water into tankers and barges, which would then ship the water to a company in Louisiana that can dispose of it via deep injection wells.
It is hoped that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is installing a reverse osmosis treatment system on the Piney Point property to purify water.
“I think we’ll see a decrease in activity in the bay over the next few days,” Hopes said. “The goal is to keep as much as possible on site.”
What will happen to Piney Point when this crisis is over?
State lawmakers are pushing for a bill to fund a full cleanup and shutdown of the phosphogypsum stacks at Piney Point from the American Rescue Plan, which could cost up to $ 200 million.
On Monday evening, Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson announced that the Senate would consider a budget change on Wednesday when it considered Senate Draft 2500, known as the General Appropriations Act.
Is the wastewater at Piney Point radioactive?Your questions about the leak have been answered