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Drone picks up potential second leak at Piney Point reservoir in Florida

April 5 (UPI) -- Manatee County Director of Public Safety Jacob Saur said Monday a drone picked up a potential second leak at the already partially breached Piney Point reservoir.

Saur said the drone picked up the potential second leak at 2 a.m. during a press conference Monday to provide an update since the reservoir at Piney Point -- site of a former fertilizer plant in Manatee County currently owned by HRK Holdings -- has been leaking for over a week, The Tampa Bay Times reported.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other specialists were on site to assess the drone's findings, Saur said at the press conference.

They have four major lines and smaller pumps to move water out of the reservoir, Saur added.

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Officials fear pressure from the leak could break apart phosphogypsum stacks, a radioactive byproduct of the fertilizer industry, around the ponds, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Engineers believe a crack in the plastic lining holding the wastewater caused the leak, which prompted evacuations orders for more than 300 households Saturday that remain in place.

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U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who also appeared at the press conference Monday, along with other officials, toured the area by helicopter Monday.

"To see the reality of (it) is very concerning to me," Buchanan said. "To see the water spewing out, it looked very contaminated to me."

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He added that there was a need to "bring all the resources we can" to clean up the area.

"I am concerned about the threat to public safety, homes, as well as businesses and, of course, marine life," Buchanan said. "I really hate to see what's happened."

Acting Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes said about 35 million gallons per day was being drained from the pond with wastewater dumped toward Tampa Bay at Port Manatee. The latest estimate was about 300 million gallons of wastewater in the reservoir, down from about 480 gallons prior to the leak.

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the pumping of millions of gallons of industrial wastewater into the Tampa Bay ecosystem last week in response to the Piney Point leak to prevent "a catastrophic release," The Herald Tribune previously reported. The wastewater is slightly acidic and has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which could feed algae and red tide.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County Saturday, which includes Hillsborough and Pinellas counties due to their proximity to "an imminent hazard." And officials ordered a complete evacuation of the Piney Point reservoir area as work crews attempted to shore up a breach in a wall at the former phosphate plant. Amid fears that the reservoir could collapse, Hopes warned that the wastewater could potentially leave the "retention pool" and go "around the surrounding area."

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