(CNN) — Response teams in Manatee County, Florida, are trying to prevent a “catastrophic flood situation” in the Piney Point Reservoir area, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday after taking an aerial tour of the area.
The governor assured the public that the water discharged to nearby Port Manatee on the Gulf Coast is not radioactive.
The Manatee County Department of Public Safety declared a state of emergency on Saturday and ordered the complete evacuation of the Piney Point Reservoir site, about 20 miles south of Tampa, and surrounding areas due to a leak that could cause the collapse of phosphogypsum piles, radioactive waste created during fertilizer production and phosphate rock mining.
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“What we are facing now is trying to prevent and respond, if necessary, to a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said. “The goal is to ensure the integrity of the battery system as quickly as possible to minimize impacts to local residents and avoid uncontrolled discharge.”
Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh assured Manatee County utility customers that “their drinking water is completely safe to drink.”
“The water distribution system is a closed system and there is no way for the flood water to get in,” Baugh said. “There is also no threat to our main source of drinking water, Manatee Lake.”
What we know about the leak in the reservoir
The leak in the retaining wall was discovered about a week ago and residents of the area were evacuated Thursday, as authorities warned that it could cause a structural collapse at any moment.
DeSantis said Manatee County public safety officials sent evacuation notices to residents and businesses in the surrounding area and helped evacuate 316 homes that were in the evacuation zone near Piney Point.
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Engineers at the site said a controlled release was necessary to avoid a “catastrophic failure” at the Florida reservoir, according to the governor. Controlled discharges that began March 30 and continued on Sunday average about 35 million gallons per day (about 132,489,412 liters), it added.
The Florida National Guard is installing additional pumps, which will “feed the surrounding waterways” to help rapidly lower water levels in the reservoir, DeSantis said.
Acting County Manager Scott Hopes warned residents, asking them to “listen” to emergency management.
“If we had a total rupture, in a matter of minutes, we would be faced with about 340 million gallons (1,287,040,006 liters) that could arrive in a period of minutes, and models show that in less than an hour it would be as high as a 20-foot wall of water, ”said Hope. “So if you’re in an evacuation area and you haven’t paid attention to that, you should think twice and follow orders.”
Hopes also said that while they have not yet passed the critical moment, they believe they will be in “a much better position and the level of risk will have decreased significantly” by Tuesday.
CNN’s Chris Boyette and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism