A wastewater reservoir in Manatee County, Fla., started leaking last week, and over the weekend, officials declared a state of emergency and warned that a "20-foot wall of water" could be unleashed. That's what would happen within minutes if walls around the retention pond are fully breached, the acting county administrator said; as the Tampa Bay Times reports, efforts to repair the breach causing the leak have so far been unsuccessful. "What we're looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation," Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday, per CNN. The entire Piney Point reservoir site, about 20 miles south of Tampa, and surrounding areas has been evacuated. It's not clear what caused the leak, but a tear in the decades-old plastic lining of the pond is said to be one possible culprit, the Guardian reports.
There are more than 306 million gallons of polluted saltwater still in the reservoir, which holds wastewater from phosphate fertilizer manufacturing, Weather.com reports. There's also sea water, rainwater, seepage water, and dredging material in the acidic stew, USA Today reports. That amount of water could form the aforementioned wall in "minutes," the administrator says. The Florida National Guard is bringing in pumps to get that level down by pumping the water into local waterways. Experts are concerned the water will ultimately flow into Tampa Bay, hurting the local ecosystem. While the gypsum stack the reservoir sits on is mildly radioactive, officials say the water is not; but it is high in phosphorus and nitrogen, which can cause algae blooms and red tide. Local drinking water is reportedly safe, according to officials. (Read more Florida stories.)