Florida works to avoid 'catastrophic' pond collapse

Gov. Ron De Santis inspects a failing phosphogypsum storage site near Tampa Bay

This aerial photo taken from an airplane shows a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, Saturday, April 3, 2021 in Bradenton, Fla.

The water being discharged from Piney Point is a mix of sea water from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said.

Attempts to fix the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful.

"We're talking about the potential of about [480] million gallons, within a matter of seconds and minutes, leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area", Scott Hopes, the Manatee County Administrator, said Saturday.

Officials in Manatee county extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned Sunday that up to 340m gallons could engulf the area in "a 20ft wall of water" if they could not fix the breach at the Piney Point reservoir in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton.

Engineers said the structure collapse could happen any time, which would flood the area - and Tampa Bay itself - with water that contains phosphorus and nitrogen from the phosphate plant.

"The pond is basically salt water". The Florida governor said a possible flood is a bigger concern than the quality of water.

Another fear has been the water leaking or overflowing into Tampa Bay that is right next to it.

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The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser.

"The State is committed to holding HRK and all involved parties accountable".

Hopes says that if the pond collapses, there is a risk it could destabilise the walls of other areas in the plant.

Hopes said he could not rule out that a full breach could destabilize the walls of the other ponds at the Piney Point site. We saw ducks yesterday, there are snooks swimming in there.

"This is not acceptable and it's not something we will allow to persist", he said, adding that he has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to find a permanent fix at the site.

In March, the county decided the best environmental option is to move the water from above ground to a deep water injection well 3000 feet below but that idea is still waiting for state approval and funding.

There are at least 70 gypsum stacks in the U.S. and about 27 in Florida, mostly in the region of west-central Florida.

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