Several years ago, St. Petersburg faced a 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis and since then, the city has taken momentous steps to ensure that incident will never repeat.
At the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve, a site affected by the sewage discharge in 2015, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman alongside other officials spoke Monday morning on the frustrations of the past and how the city has made the system a priority.
In 2015 and 2016, heavy rain led to sewage spills as the city long neglected its wastewater system in restoring parts and updating the tools that could have prevented such spills. Since then, the city has fixed the pipes, visually inspecting them and having an alarm system set up. The improvements also included increasing the filter capacity from 40 million to 85 million gallons per day, adding two deep wells, and rehabbing over 5,000 manholes.
“We haven’t had a single wet weather-related problem in more than two years,” Kriseman said. “We never had a sewage problem, we had a rainwater problem (events pushing rainwater into the sewage system). Quite frankly, science tells us these events are only going to get worse. It may ultimately cost the city $3 billion over the next 20 years.”
The city manages water in four different ways – drinking water, stormwater, wastewater and reclaimed water, which is used for purposes such as watering yards and golf courses.
“More rain led to more overflows, spills, discharges … No matter what was happening elsewhere and in many communities in the area, all eyes were on St. Pete and our aging wastewater system. A system with the compromised capacity and old leaking pipes,” Kriseman recalled. “As a result of what happened, changes were made in the public works department. We hired the right consultants and studied the entire system with data collection and scenario planning.”
Today, the city has an Integrated Water Resources Master Plan.
“While we are proud of our progress, the Deputy Mayor [Kanika Tomalin] made it very clear – we are not done yet. This is not an announcement of mission accomplished. This is an announcement of a mission that is being advanced every single day,” Kriseman said.