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FL County Spills Wastewater into Wetlands

Friday, April 12, 2019

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Sarasota County, Florida, is still under fire after a 48-inch diameter pipe burst at the Bee Ridge treatment facility on Dec. 20 of last year, releasing an estimated 900,000 gallons of wastewater on site, some of which flowed into the stormwater system and out into Sarasota Bay.

With spillage still occurring, three nonprofits have informed the county they will sue if the county can not figure out how to put an end to the environmental hazard.

Incident History

According to Sarasota Police, the pipe ruptured around 9 a.m. and was isolated and stopped by city crews within the hour. Due to recent heavy rainfall, a significant amount of groundwater infiltrated the sanitary sewer system, diluting the wastewater.

Courtesy of Sarasota Police 

Sarasota County, Florida, is still under fire after a 48-inch diameter pipe burst at the Bee Ridge treatment facility on Dec. 20 of last year, releasing an estimated 900,000 gallons of wastewater on site, some of which flowed into the stormwater system and out into Sarasota Bay.

Following the break, the city sent out notifications of the incident to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Sarasota County region’s Florida Department of Health. Precautions were also taken to stay away from the infected waterways while initial water quality tests were conducted and affected areas sanitized.

Shortly after, in January, health and safety leaders from the Sarasota Utilities Department released its proactive plans to prevent future wastewater spills. Included in the plans was a creation of a wastewater pump station improvement program, which would fund new pumps and generators $15 million over the next five years.

The program also budgeted $8 million every year to line pipes and sewer structures in addition to improving lift stations.

Also in January, a new bill was filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, suggesting that if a similar spill were to occur, $1 would be fined for each gallon lost. The bill requires that municipalities must notify customers of sewage spills within a 24-hour period and will either pay a fine to the state or allocate money to improving sewage infrastructure when spills impact waterbodies.

In February, several other sewage spills were linked to broken and aging pipes in Florida. According to WWSB—a local ABC News affiliate—officials had discovered that the cause of the Sarasota spill was a hydrogen sulfite gas that ate away the concrete pipe, causing it to burst. According to those same officials, the pipe should have lasted 75 years but ruptured after 40.

Even though the pipe had since been repaired and running accordingly, several environmental groups began threatening to sue the county for dumping over 800 million of gallons of wastewater into local waterways since 2013.

These clean water advocacy groups gave the county a 60-day notice on Feb. 20 of its plan to sue unless the county would provide remedies to the spills.

If the suit is followed through, it would allege that the county had repeatedly violated the federal Clean Water Act by discharging treated wastewater from the Bee Ridge Wastewater Reclamation Facility and for its repeated spills of raw and partially treated sewage throughout collection systems and treatment plants.

By then end of March, lawmakers began weighing in on the issue. Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Al Maio approved county efforts to divert water from the facility to two other wastewater plants and the planned installation for two Department of Environmental Protection-approved aquifer recharge wells, that are estimated to hold 18 million gallons of water each.

 

 

aquatarkus / Getty Images

Yet, Bloom still claims that the Bee Ridge treatment facility is still spilling multiple gallons of treated wastewater, daily, into a wetland that leads to Phillippi Creek.

 

The cost of the new wells is slated to cost roughly $14.2 million. However, the environmental groups’ attorney and SunCoast Waterkeeper founder, Justin Bloom, still claims that the county has failed to take corrective action to stop the discharges. In addition, they claim that the county has repeatedly spilled raw sewage from sewer lines, manholes, pump stations and other wastewater plants.

DEP spokesperson Dee Ann Miller stated in an email, “he department is working on drafting a consent order, that will include corrective actions for the reuse disposal capacity issue as well as for the raw spills in the collection systems of both the county’s facilities—Bee Ridge and Central County—and will include penalties with an in-kind option at 1.5 times the penalty amount, which could help facilitate additional improvements to the county’s wastewater infrastructure.”

What’s Happening Now

With the long-term solution already underway, the Florida DEP is working with the county to install the two aquifer recharge wells. Yet, Bloom still claims that the Bee Ridge treatment facility is still spilling multiple gallons of treated wastewater, daily, into a wetland that leads to Phillippi Creek.

Bloom also added, “We know how to keep this out of our streams and creeks and estuaries. It's expensive, but the technology is there.

“We're learning more and more about how (wastewater) contributes a significant amount—more than I think was originally realized—of pollution, particularly nitrogen pollution in our estuaries. We know how to fix it and the municipalities needs to step up and fix their systems.”

Additionally, documentation shows that the treated wastewater has 18-19 milligrams per liter of nitrogen, while other plants have reported only having 3 milligrams per liter or less.

Sarasota County has not made any public statements about this information at this time.

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Control; Environmental Protection; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Sewer systems; Wastewater Plants

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