Florida officials have lifted an evacuation order for residents and business owners around a waste water reservoir after being told to flee for fear it would burst and release a 20-foot wall of water.
Manatee County public safety officials announced Tuesday afternoon that the mandatory evacuation order around the Piney Point Reservoir in the Tampa Bay area north of Bradenton had been lifted with immediate effect from 4 p.m. local time.
Some wastewater is still leaking from the reservoir, but officials said seepage rates had dropped so it was now safe for residents to return to their homes and businesses.
More than 300 homes were evacuated near the large reservoir on Saturday when Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency.
Some inmates from a district prison were also taken to an undisclosed location by buses, while others were moved to higher floors in the facility.
Close-up of the Piney Point Reservoir on Tuesday. Florida officials have lifted evacuation orders for residents and business owners around the reservoir
Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes announced Tuesday afternoon that there is no longer a threat of catastrophic flooding and that the crisis has largely been averted.
“This is now well under control,” he said at a press conference.
People and pets who had taken refuge in nearby hotels can now return home and businesses in the area can reopen.
Some road closures remain in effect for now, but the major highway nearby – Highway 41 – reopened earlier Tuesday.
The lifting of the evacuation order comes after multiple agencies, including the US Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Emergency Management and Manatee County Public Safety officials, met to discuss developments at the reservoir.
Nikki Fried, the state commissioner for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visited the site on Tuesday and told reporters that the situation appeared to have stabilized.
“It looks like this is under control, something like this could be under control,” said Fried, a Democrat.
“We need to take immediate action to fix this.”
Florida lawmakers have proposed spending $ 200 million to clean up and shut down the reservoir due to concerns about a similar problem in the future.
Senate president Republican Wilton Simpson said a legislative committee will pass an amendment on Wednesday to use federal money for the project.
Manatee County public safety officials announced Tuesday afternoon that the mandatory evacuation order around the Piney Point Reservoir in the Tampa Bay area north of Bradenton had been lifted effective immediately from 4 p.m. local time.
The sponsor is Senator Jim Boyd, a Republican from Bradenton, where the Piney Point Reservoir is located.
“This has been a disaster for too long,” Simpson said in a statement.
“We don’t want to talk about this problem anymore in five, ten or twenty years.”
It is expected that a parliamentary committee will also consider a similar bill on Wednesday.
Under the proposals, the money would come from the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by Joe Biden in March.
“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Boyd.
Under the Florida Senate bill, once the money is approved, the Department of Environmental Protection would use competitive bidding to select a company to handle the site shutdown.
The precise contours of that plan are not yet clear.
Some ideas on the table include a deep well injection to send the water thousands of feet underground, but that brings its own concerns about contamination.
The reservoir, and two others nearby, are in piles of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct of fertilizer production from an old phosphate plant that is no longer in operation.
A satellite image on April 5 shows a break in the sewage storage pond at Piney Point
An aerial view of the sewage storage pond at Piney Point on Monday
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the water in the pond is mainly salt water mixed with sewage and rainwater.
It has elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen and is acidic, but does not appear to be toxic. It’s not radioactive.
For about a week, a leak in the reservoir wall meant that between 2 million and 3 million liters of water escaped every day.
Officials warned that a “real catastrophic flood situation” was imminent with 340 million gallons of sewage flooding homes and businesses if the wall burst.
To avoid total collapse, officials have deployed dozens of pumps and 10 vacuum trucks to remove more than 35 million gallons of sewage per day in the Tampa Bay estuary.
There, 11 different sampling operations monitored water quality and considered ways to minimize algal blooms that are killing marine life and making the beach dangerous for people in the tourism dependent state.
Fears of a second breakthrough increased after a drone identified another possible leak in the reservoir on Monday.
But state officials ruled this out later that day, saying the risk was “ unsubstantiated. ”
The Florida National Guard is seen pumping to the reservoir on Sunday