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Mechanical failure leads to wastewater spill, stoking red tide concerns

Mark Parker

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The effects of red tide. St. Pete Catalyst photo.

Monday evening, the City of St. Petersburg announced that a mechanical failure led to the release of approximately 1,300 gallons of wastewater into the area around Smacks Bayou, adjacent to the Snell Isle neighborhood.

While relatively small spills of this magnitude occur regularly, there is a heightened concern as residents are currently dealing with the worst red tide the area has seen since 1971.

Red tide feeds on nutrients found in wastewater, along with those supplied by runoff, fertilizer, dead fish resulting from the outbreak, and many other sources. City officials said they take even small spills and transparency seriously.

“We take any spill seriously, with the understanding of the impact it has on our environment,” said Benjamin Kirby, Communications Director for the Mayor’s Office. “That’s why we notify our citizens. You can find these notifications on our website.”

The spill resulted from a force main break, and the cause is now under investigation.

“With respect to how it will take time to determine the cause of the force main break,” said Kirby. “All the information we know to date is in our report.”

The report was filed with the Federal Department of Environmental Protection and stated that the spill was reported at 9:13 p.m. on Sunday, with the city arriving at 8:30 a.m. Monday and the discharge ceasing at 10 a.m. The type of pollution listed was raw sewage.

The spill occurred at Lift Station (LS) 13, under the bridge on 31st Ave NE just east of Maple St NE. According to the report, when the LS crew arrived on site LS 13 was not running. Pumps were turned on manually to evaluate the issue, though none was found initially. The crew walked out to the adjacent bridge to check on the force main where the leak was then identified. Pumps were turned off immediately to stop any additional discharge, and staff called the Wastewater Maintenance Supervisor (WMS) and notified him of the leak.

When the WMS force main crew arrived they coordinated with the LS crew to conduct an additional assessment by opening a receiving manhole to monitor incoming flow. Crews also used a boat to assess the force main under the bridge and turned on the lift station manually. As wastewater continued to flow into the receiving manhole, it was determined that the leak under the bridge was coming from a 10-inch casing that holds the four-inch force main.

Bypass pumping was then set up, and hard surfaces that were exposed to the raw sewage were cleaned and notifications signs were placed around the area. The report stated that access to the force main is limited, and a contractor was called to complete the repair work. Moving forward, the city will work with the engineering department and a contractor to replace the force main from the lift station to the receiving manhole.

While this mechanical failure in St. Petersburg has been drawing increased scrutiny due to the ongoing red tide debacle, it is by far not the only spill to occur in the area recently.

  • On July 4, Hillsborough County spilled a similar amount of wastewater – 1,320 gallons – when a TECO truck hit a pole. On the same day, the City of Tampa estimated an overflow of 57,820 gallons was released as well.
  • On July 10, the City of Tampa released 2,700 gallons into a ditch due to a grease blockage in the line.
  • On July 14, Pinellas County released 500 gallons of overflow, and Hillsborough County released an unspecified amount of treated wastewater.

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dorine

    July 20, 2021at3:41 pm

    It’s about time the media started reporting these pollution events. This most recent spill by the City of St. Petersburg brings their total wastewater discharges to 12,247 gallons to date for 2021 which were spilled onto the streets or into the waterways. I also noticed that they removed the 90 gallons they had reported that they discharged on the 4th of July from their web site. They need to build enough sewage infrastructure for current residents and the future residents they hope to place in the 70+ high rise apartments or condos they have planned to build or are building.

  2. Avatar

    Lois

    July 21, 2021at9:23 am

    Dorine, this spill had nothing to do with the capacity of the system to handle future residents. It was a pipe failure, likely due to old age and normal wear-and-tear. Sewer systems are large and complicated, and like all mechanical facilities, will fail from time-to-time. A good analogy would be a 80-year-old home. If the roof suddenly sprung a leak the week before the kids and grandkids moved back in, it would be related to the fact that the roof was old, not to the fact that the population of the home was to suddenly increase. Age- and mechanical-related spills will always happen because no sewer system is 100% protected against failure – as is confirmed by the reference in the article to similar spills in other regional cities and counties.

  3. Avatar

    Barbara

    July 21, 2021at12:09 pm

    This site, t have been told, has been slowly letting sewage flow for some time now. This did not “just happen”. Sewage dumping into the bat has been ongoing ever since Friedman shut down the sewage facility by Albert Whited Airport and never had enough facilities now to meet the needs of St Petersburg. Anyone with common sense knows that with the building rate in St Petersburg the need for additional sewage treatment facilities is at the critical point.. WE ARE KILLING TAMPA BAY WITH SEWAGE!

  4. Avatar

    Marl

    July 21, 2021at5:42 pm

    Dorine: You state they’ve spilled 13,000 gallons YTD. Permitted capacity of all wastewater treatment plants is 56,000,000 gallons per day. Actual flow ~35,000,000 gallons per day. They’ve spilled 13,000 gallons out of nearly 8,000,000,000 treated (0.0002%) this year. That’s probably 100X less than yacht bilge pumps have dumped this year.

    Get over yourself keyboard warrior. You should be happy that central wastewater treatment exists. The problem is fertilizer on golf courses and lawns. Stay in your lane, which I assume is Boston terriers, upscale art, and Maseratis.

  5. Avatar

    Marl

    July 21, 2021at7:50 pm

    Who pays you to shill against wastewater treatment plants? This is 99.999% caused by urban storm water runoff. No, it’s not big sugar either. It is concentrated expensive development near the coasts that maintain a landscape aesthetic which requires tons of fertilizer. This same development is high density and there is no room for storm water treatment areas – i.e. ponds, detention, etc. The coastal communities are the last stop for storm water before it enters the gulf. They are also the least equipped to treat it, and they provide a really high final nutrient input because the rich folks want perfect landscaping.

  6. Avatar

    Billy Sunday

    July 22, 2021at10:21 am

    Florida needs to wake-up and start doing something about pollution in the gulf. Why do people move, vacation in Florida? The water and sun. Start electing officials who care about the environment, stop building so much! You can’t even drive anywhere anymore it’s to damn crowded.

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