Officials Lift Evacuation Order As Piney Point Wastewater 'Uncontrolled Breach' Averted

Tuesday, newly released images of the reservoir show noticeably lower water levels after officials scrambled to drain the holding pond in efforts to prevent millions of gallons of wastewater from spilling into those nearby homes and businesses.

Video Transcript

- And there are new details on the potential environmental emergency going on near Tampa Bay. Residents who were previously evacuated near Piney Point will now be able to return home tonight. Manatee County experts determined it's now safe for the evacuation order to be lifted and for Highway 41A, a main road for businesses and commercial traffic, to reopen.

Casey Albritton from our sister station in Tampa has the details on how those decisions were made.

CASEY ALBRITTON: Highway 41, right, behind me, is now back open because local officials say they are confident in the current drainage plan of Piney Point. Now, some of that water from Piney Point is going to treatment plants, some of it is going into the Tampa Bay, and then some of it is also going into a 3.5-million gallon pond that is currently unused.

JAMES SATCHER: Our water quality is of utmost importance, and we need safety, and we need to feel good about where we live.

CASEY ALBRITTON: Manatee County commissioner James Satcher says while the focus right now is on public safety, soon that focus will shift.

JAMES SATCHER: We're going to shift to keeping as much of that water out of the Bay as possible. And any of the water that does go to the Bay, we're going to do everything we can to make it as clean as possible, because there are things that we can do with the reverse osmosis, et cetera.

CASEY ALBRITTON: But first, the goal is to get the 300 million gallons of water that's left in the Piney Point Reservoir removed to avoid a previously predicted 20-foot tidal wave.

JOHN TRUITT: Two large 18-inch pumps should be connected and running by early this afternoon to, again, focusing on that moving additional water to control discharge. We have two to three boats a day out in the water collecting water samples.

CASEY ALBRITTON: Even though there's still a possibility for the retention pond wall to collapse, local leaders say there's a lot less water and it's moving at a much slower controlled speed.

JACOB SAUR: All of the inundation, less than a foot in those areas, and most of that is farmland, lakes, and low-lying areas that are able to take that water.

CASEY ALBRITTON: Kevin Guthrie with the Emergency Response Team says on Wednesday, teams will be sent out to the Piney Point Reservoir and they will attempt to find the breach in the wall and start patching it up.

In simple terms, there's still a lot of work to be done.

SCOTT HOPES: The critical factor is to get our economic drivers back online through the US-41 thoroughfare and businesses impacted by the evacuation order.

CASEY ALBRITTON: Manatee County administrator Dr. scott Hope says water samples are being collected regularly to see how the reservoir water will impact the Bay.

In Manatee County, reporting for CBS4 News, I'm Casey Albritton.