ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A drone discovered a possible second breach in a large Florida wastewater reservoir as more pumps were headed to the site to prevent a catastrophic flood, officials said Monday.
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.”
The primary concern is that a total breach of the reservoir would cause major flooding to nearby homes and businesses, officials said. The pumps are meant to slowly drain the water and divert it to Tampa Bay, which could lead to negative environmental consequences such as fish kills and algae blooms.
Scott Hopes, the Manatee County administrator, said the additional pumps should increase the capacity for a controlled release of the water from about 35 million gallons (about 132 million liters) a day to between 75 million and 100 million gallons a day.
“This has become a very focused local, state and national issue,” Hopes said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily salt water mixed with wastewater and storm water. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.
Still, the EPA says too much nitrogen in the wastewater causes algae to grow faster, leading to fish kills. Some such blooms can also harm humans who come into contact with polluted waters, or eat tainted fish.
The Piney Point reservoir, and others like it storing the phosphogypsum byproduct, have been left unaddressed for far too long, environmental groups say.
“This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact it was entirely foreseeable and preventable,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than 1 billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now.”
“Continued neglect can have serious environmental consequences like we are seeing,” Rucker said. “These environmental catastrophes are going to happen with higher probability.”
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