Additional pumps were expected to come online on Monday, which Mr. Hopes said would more than double the rate at which water was being taken out of the reservoir, to 75 million to 100 million gallons a day from 35 million gallons on Monday morning.
“You can see how we can more rapidly deplete the volume in a retaining pool, which is at greater — greatest — risk,” Mr. Hopes said, adding that by the end of Monday, the county expected to have a clearer picture of the situation.
Dale Rucker, chief technical officer for hydroGEOPHYSICS Inc., a company in Tucson, Ariz., that offers geophysical services to the environmental, engineering, mining and oil and gas industries, said Florida officials were facing extraordinary circumstances. Customarily, he said, the discharge of so much wastewater would require permits, environmental assessments and public input.
“Unfortunately, they did not have that luxury this time,” Mr. Rucker said. “Beating the clock is a big factor here. I imagine they are making difficult decisions under high duress that they would not normally make.”
As the authorities battled the leak, which appeared to have been caused by a tear in a liner, Mr. Rucker said officials also had to be concerned with a weakening of the earthen impoundment holding back the water, likening that dynamic to what happened to the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
“The Achilles’ heel of any containment system is water,” Mr. Rucker said.
Mr. Rucker said it was possible that the reservoir might not be heavily contaminated, noting that he had read reports that ducks and fish were spotted in the reservoir. Still, Mr. Rucker said he hoped the water was being discharged into multiple bodies of water, so that not just one would be overloaded with nutrients that could be harmful to fish and plants.
As climate change brings more intense rains, Mr. Rucker said, consideration must be made for how such reservoirs are designed.
Jesus Jiménez and Christopher Mele