Florida dismisses 2nd breach risk at phosphate reservoir

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Acting Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes speaks during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a leak at a large pond of wastewater threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores polluted water. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Engineers and dam safety specialists evaluating the danger of a catastrophic flood from a leaking Florida wastewater reservoir determined that the threat of a possible second breach was “unsubstantiated,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said.

Officials had said Monday that a drone discovered a possible second breach in the reservoir, whose east wall continues to show “concentrated seepage.” But by Monday evening, experts from four government agencies and outside engineers concluded that this second site was safe to continue working on, the agency announced.

Meanwhile, the agency said dozens of pumps and 10 vacuum trucks have been deployed to remove 35 million gallons (132 million liters) of wastewater per day into the Tampa Bay estuary, where 11 different sampling operations are monitoring water quality and considering ways of minimizing algae blooms that kill marine life and make beachgoing hazardous to humans in the tourism-dependent state.

“All water quality information concludes that this water is NOT radioactive,” the agency tweeted.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, toured the area by helicopter Monday and said federal resources were committed to assisting the effort to control the 77-acre (33-hectare) Piney Point reservoir in Manatee County, just south of the Tampa Bay area.

Among those are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Buchanan said at a news conference.

“I think we are making some progress,” Buchanan said. “This is something that has been going on too long. Now, I think everybody is focused on this.”

Fears of a complete breach at an old phosphate plant led authorities to evacuate more than 300 homes, close portions of a major highway and move several hundred jail inmates nearby to a second floor of the facility.