Sunday, December 17, 2017
Opinion

Column: St. Petersburg progressing well on fixing sewers

The city of St. Petersburg is committed to improving our wastewater infrastructure. The discharges and spills of 2015-16 and the associated communications challenges remain at the top of our minds and list of priorities.

We have been working hard to communicate that we are, in fact, "fixing the sewers." This has been a real team effort, with everyone from Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council members to our engineering, capital improvements, installation, maintenance and consultant teams pulling together with the shared goal of mitigating future challenges.

The infrastructure plan implemented last October calls for $45 million in improvements over a 12-month period. Last week, the City Council authorized $9.9 million of construction work, bringing the total six-month appropriation to $36 million. We are well on our way to meeting our $45 million goal before the peak of the 2017 rainy season.

How is that money being used? We are sealing pipes and manholes to reduce rainwater inflow and groundwater infiltration into our collection system. We are doubling our filtration capacity at two of our treatment plants to ensure we can treat the heavy flows during a Hermine-type storm. And we are drilling three new deep injection wells to safely dispose of excess reclaimed water. These improvements are necessary to prevent spills or emergency discharges should we get a storm that produces 8 to 12 inches of rain in three days.

We will not stop there. We are embarking on a comprehensive long-range plan to address all of our water resources needs. This integrated, risk-based plan will balance protection of public health and environment, stewardship of public money, regulatory compliance, resiliency, sustainability, social equity and economic growth. This plan will address elements of our community's potable water, wastewater, reclaimed water and stormwater.

The infrastructure plan calls for the investment of more than $300 million over five years, and the Integrated Water Resources Master Plan will guide us toward the most effective and efficient investment strategy.

We are also improving and diversifying our outreach to the public. From hosting open houses to "Sewage Symposiums" and injection well public hearings, our efforts to engage, educate and empower are enabling our residents to understand what happens "after the flush."

Residents can also find us on Twitter (@StPetePW) and on the NextDoor neighborhood platform. We know we have a lot of work to do. We have to better protect the environment, and better inform the media and concerned citizens. As has been our practice, we will also continue to communicate via traditional methods. We are confident in our plans and determined to strengthen our infrastructure in time for future heavy rains.

Claude Tankersley is the public works administrator for the city of St. Petersburg.

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