TAMPA (CBSMiami) – Officials have confirmed a waste water reservoir from a former fertilizer plant on the state’s west coast does not have a second breach.
Director Jacob Saur of Manatee County Public Safety said Monday an infrared drone identified a signature that could’ve been a second breach at the Piney Point facility.READ MORE: Retired Police Major Explains How Miami-Dade Officers Are Trained Not To Mix Up Handgun & Taser
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties.
Manatee County officials say the latest models show that a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir in the Tampa Bay area could gush out 340 million gallons of water in a matter of minutes, risking a 20-foot high wall of water.
As a precaution, officials have evacuated a nearby jail and more than 300 homes. Those individuals who had to evacuate will continue to shelter at hotels.
For days, millions of gallons of wastewater have been released into Florida waterways, including Tampa Bay, to relieve stress on the pond’s retaining walls in a desperate effort to avoid an environmental disaster.
“What we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” said DeSantis.
The 77-acre pond holds 480 million gallons of polluted water – a mix of saltwater, storm run-off, and acidic water containing phosphorus and nitrogen.
The governor has denied reports it’s radioactive even though it is surrounded by radioactive material.
“The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception primarily of the phosphorus and the nitrogen,” said DeSantis.READ MORE: With J&J's Single-Shot Paused, Medical Expert Says People Shouldn’t ‘Try To Skimp At This Stage’ When It Comes To 2nd Dose Of Pfizer Or Moderna
The Piney Point phosphate plant closed 20-years-ago. Since then there’s been growing concern about both the water and the deteriorating infrastructure holding it.
A top state regulator called it “one of the biggest environmental threats in Florida history,” in a 2003 story in the St. Petersburg Times. It reported that “state officials fear the waste will spill into Tampa Bay, killing millions of fish and destroying plant life for miles.”
Water is now being pumped out of the pond at a rate of about 22-thousand gallons a minute. Officials said it would take until Tuesday to remove enough water to prevent a breach.
However, 20 new water pumps were being installed on Monday which will increase the removal of water from 35 million gallons to almost 100 million per day.
Ed Sherwood, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, is worried about the impact.
“For the past 20 years, we’ve been trying to get attention for the closing of this facility and I think this kind of just raises the bar,” he said.
Sherwood says the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations could lead to more algae blooms which could kill off fish and other wildlife.
“The people that work and live in Tampa Bay have done a lot and made a lot of investments to get the bay back into the healthy condition that we see today. It wasn’t always like this so when these events happen it’s almost an insult to that community,” he saidMORE NEWS: 'Bed Tax' Change Backed In Florida House
Manatee County officials said the leak poses no danger to the local water supply, which they described as a “closed system.”