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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Consultant: Leaky pipes the main culprit in St. Petersburg's sewage crisis



ST. PETERSBURG — The city has leaky pipes. On an average day without rain in the Sunshine City, about two-thirds…” of the sewage flow is made up of groundwater entering leaky sewer pipes, consultants told the City Council on Thursday.

When it rains, that flow spikes even more, leading to about 200 million gallons of spills and discharges over the past 14 months, according to a preliminary analysis by a wastewater consultant.

But much of the problem lies in relatively concentrated areas around Lake Maggiore, Old Southeast and a large swaths of west-central of the city.

That eased Council member Karl Nurse’s mind. Now the city has an emerging map of areas to focus efforts of fixing pipes.

“It makes this a much less overwhelming task,” Nurse said.

Nurse wants the city to spend as much money budgeted for sewer repairs as quickly as possible.

Public works administrator Claude Tankersley said that he wants to spend all of the $8 million additional money recently designated by the city for pipe lining and other fixes before the start of next summer’s rainy season.

The city has already said it will attempt to reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted sewer plant by June 2017 to help avoid future overflows that have befouled Tampa and Boca Ciega bays and likely worsened recent red tides in the area.

CH2M Hill, a national engineering consulting firm, has been studying the city’s sewers since the first spills and dumps in August 2015. On Thursday, a consultant said the second phase of the study would complete its data collection in December. A “stress test” for the whole system will be done in August 2017.

The study has monitored 82 points around the city and neighboring beach towns, which send their sewage to St. Petersburg for treatment.

Tankersley, who was hired in February, said he believes this is the first systematic study of the 900 miles or so of sewer pipes that run underneath the city’s streets.

His predecessor Mike Connors retired last year after the initial spills. Last month, Mayor Rick Kriseman placed Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt and Engineering Director Tom Gibson on unpaid leave in connection to the ongoing sewer crisis.

One of the conclusions that surprised Council member Charlie Gerdes was the amount of groundwater that, even on rainless days, flows through the city’s sewer pipes.

“That’s mind blowing,” he said.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2016 1:24pm]


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