A leak in a wastewater pond caused a state of emergency in Manatee County, Florida last weekend. More than 300 homes were evacuated in case the reservoir at a former phosphate mine collapsed. If the 400 million-gallon reservoir were to totally collapse, residents could face a 20-foot wall of water in less than an hour’s time.
To avoid a burst reservoir, authorities drained the untreated wastewater into surrounding waterways. Gov. Ron DeSantis reassured the public in a press conference Sunday that the water wasn’t radioactive. He said it was primarily salt water “mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff.”
If you’re wondering what “legacy water” is, you’re not alone. An article on legacy pollutants from the University of Southern Maine describes them as “contaminants that have been left in the environment by sources that are no longer discharging them such as an old industry that has since left the area.” (Such as a phosphate mine.)
Officials are pumping out 33 million gallons of the reservoir water per day. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the drained water “meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen. It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern.”
The state and governor plan to hold HRK Holdings, who bought the site in 2006, accountable for damages due to the reservoir emergency. But the trouble with the site precedes the current owner. In 2020, one article described the reservoir as “one of the biggest environmental threats in Florida history” and outlined controversies all the way back to the ‘60s. HRK filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after an expensive gypsum stack liner leak in 2011.
“It could have been resolved two decades ago,” said Manatee County’s Acting County Administrator Scott Hopes, as reported by Huffington Post. “What I’ve seen in the past four days from the governor’s office is that all agencies and entities are now committed to a permanent resolution.”
Image via Jemzo