SARASOTA, Fla .– Crews pumped enough sewage from a retention pond in Tampa Bay on Tuesday to control the threat of a catastrophic breach that could send a massive wall of water into the surrounding area.
Last week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the pumping of industrial wastewater from a retention pond at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant, in response to the facility’s second leak in a decade. Wastewater is about as acidic as black coffee and contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which can feed the algae responsible for the red tide.
After pumping more than 30 million gallons of sewage each day into Tampa Bay, the amount of water in the Piney Point holding pond has fallen to less than 300 million gallons, from about 480 million gallons la last week at that time.
More than 300 homes and several businesses in the area around Piney Point were evacuated. The order was lifted on Tuesday afternoon after officials determined there was no longer a threat of catastrophic flooding, a sign that the immediate crisis appears to be over, although serious environmental concerns persist.
Visual explicator: How crews pumped sewage into Tampa Bay to prevent breach and flood in Florida
Here’s what we know on Tuesday:
How has the threat of a reservoir breach evolved?
Engineers pumped large amounts of water out of the sewage containment pond to relieve pressure on the breach in the pond wall. As this continues, Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said the threat of wall failure is diminishing.
“It’s no worse, which is good news,” John Truitt, assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday morning.
Tuesday afternoon, the situation had improved further.
“It’s very under control now,” Hopes said.
Map: see Florida sewage leak
Is there a second breach in the Piney Point retention pond?
As the leaking sewage containment pond wall at the site of the former Piney Point fertilizer plant continues to be a critical situation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Monday that concerns about a possible second breach in the wall proved to be unfounded.
Manatee County officials said a drone fitted with thermal imaging equipment identified a possible second breach in the wall as of 2 a.m. Monday. An investigation later determined that the identified area was not another failure of the wall, according to the department.
“Our technical team and engineers came in and assessed and determined that there was no second breach,” said department spokeswoman Shannon Herbon.
What are the environmental impacts of pumping wastewater to Tampa Bay?
Environmental groups say they fear recent releases from a Piney Point wastewater treatment facility could cause an algal bloom that could impact Florida’s southwest coast.
The nutrient-rich waters from the treatment facility will compensate for natural balances in coastal estuaries and eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico, where the red tide begins.
The area was partially paralyzed during a 17-month red tide bloom that began in fall 2017 and lasted until spring 2019.
After:Piney Point Waters May Fuel Harmful Algal Blooms Along Southwest Florida Coast
State and county authorities are looking for ways to clean up the water and prevent it from being discharged into Tampa Bay.
Hopes, the Manatee County administrator, said he was working with a company capable of storing 150 million gallons in portable tanks, which can be shipped overnight from Pennsylvania and Texas.
Hopes said there were also discussions about pumping water into tankers and barges, which would then transport the water to a Louisiana company that could dispose of it through injection wells. deep.
Hopes said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is setting up a reverse osmosis treatment system on the Piney Point property to clean up the water.
“I think we’re going to see over the next few days a decrease in what’s going on in the bay,” Hopes said. “The goal is to keep as many resources as possible on site.”
What will happen to Piney Point after this crisis is over?
State lawmakers are pushing a bill to fund a full clean-up and closure of the phosphogypsum stacks at Piney Point with US Rescue Plan funds, an effort that could cost more than $ 200 million.
On Monday evening, Republican State Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson announced that the Senate will consider a budget amendment on Wednesday when it considers Senate Bill 2500, known as the General Appropriation Act.
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