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.