Wastewater discharged into Tampa Bay and other Pinellas waters

contamination sign
Sign posted at Clam Bayou Nature Preserve in Gulfport. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2015).

Because of flooding from Tropical Storm Colin this week several cities in Pinellas County urged residents to stop using the sewer systems and had to release partially treated wastewater into the open water.

Beginning at 4:00 p.m Tuesday the City of St. Petersburg discharged partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay about one-quarter of a mile east of the Albert Whitted wastewater facility. The city urges residents to “avoid contact with the water in that area of Tampa Bay.”

The Mayor of the City of St. Pete Beach said Tuesday its sanitary sewer pipe and pump station system were “completely full and cannot accept any additional flow.” She urged all St. Pete Beach residents and businesses “to stop using the sanitary sewer system” including “showers, baths, laundry, dish washing and any other use of water that enters the sanitary sewer system.” Some untreated wastewater flowed into Boca Ciega Bay.

And for a short time Tuesday Pinellas County Utilities asked its customers in Madeira Beach to stop using water that drained to the sewer system because of blockages.

WMNF News interviewed Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida, about these wastewater discharges.

“Every time we have a major storm event or often times when there’s a lot of heavy rainfall in the area, one thing that happens is the rain falls to the ground and then ultimately takes all the pollutants that are on the groundand all that gets eventually swept away into the bay or into the ocean. That, plus certainly an overwhelming of the sewage infrastructure, our system here in the city, can definitely be problematic and put some of our drinking water and our water, here locally, at risk.
“Now, I think a lot of folks are worried about this and I think it’s definitely understandable. One of the things that I think we’re not talking enough about, here in this area, is how do we build and develop cities that actually can handle that — can handle rain and not just have our rain fall down onto the ground and into the bay, but, manage our water in a way that filters it out naturally and reenters it into the water cycle.
“If you think about St. Petersburg, Pinellas, there’s lots of homes here and a lot of the area is paved over with concrete. How do we turn some of that area into roads that are permeable, where the water filters through it or where can we put rain barrels? Where can we use what we call “green infrastructure” to better ensure that we’re protected during major storm events and rain events? Which we know will happen again here in this area. How do we do that? And I think that’s the question that we need to be talking about as a community, in addition to water infrastructure and better pipes.”
Is St. Petersburg, for example, doing enough with its infrastructure to handle large water events like this?

“I think St. Petersburg is definitely is in the right direction of studying what their water infrastructure plan is and what they need to do to make sure that we do upgrade all of our leaky pipes in and throughout the city.

“We can certainly, again, be doing more on the green infrastructure front, there are just not that many laws in the books and codes in place for new buildings that we know are going to be popping up left and right, that already are, and continue to be. And so, that’s where I think we need to spend some time thinking about what should new buildings require to make sure that they’re just not adding more concrete to an already very urban landscape.”

The City of St. Petersburg says it has notified the EPA of its wastewater release into Tampa Bay and “will sample the discharge water to document the quality of that water.”

Storms last summer caused large releases of wastewater into Tampa Bay and Clam Bayou leading to beach closures in Gulfport and elsewhere.

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