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20 million gallons and counting: St. Pete continues to discharge sewage into Tampa Bay

Partially-treated sewage discharges into Tampa Bay from a St. Petersburg city sewage plant on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. People were seen kayaking and sailing near the discharge point.
Partially-treated sewage discharges into Tampa Bay from a St. Petersburg city sewage plant on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. People were seen kayaking and sailing near the discharge point.
Published Sep. 6, 2016

Details are scarce. But Tampa Bay has been befouled with at least 20 million gallons of partially-treated sewage from St. Petersburg.

And more has been dumped since the city reported preliminary figures to the state yesterday.

Two facts can be confirmed.

As of this morning, St. Petersburg continued to discharge partially-treated sewage into Tampa Bay. But Mayor Rick Kriseman's office won't say anything more about it.

And, as of yesterday, the city reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection that 20 million gallons of partially-treated sewage had been released.

The report doesn't specify if all of those 20 million gallons had been discharged into Tampa Bay from the Albert Whitted wastewater treatmebt plant, but the fact that the sewage had been partially treated indicates that most, if not all, of those reported gallons are in the bay.

St. Petersburg also had some clogged sewer lines and overflowing maholes, but the amount spilled from those sources hadn't been calculated last week.

Tuesday morning, Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby said the city is still discharging sewage into the bay. He said the city wouldn't release any totals or other details until the lingering effects of Hurricane Hermine end.

Additional rain over the weekend didn't help the city's overwhelmed sewer system recover. Designed to handle 56-million gallons per day, all three plants were at capacity late last week. Albert Whitted, on the city's waterfront, is only used to store overflow capacity, not treat sewage.

The city's aging pipes allow water into the sanitary sewer system when the ground is saturated with rain water. And city officials have acknowledged that shuttering Albert Whitted in 2015, which removed 12.5 million gallons of capacity from the system, exacerbated the problem.

Kriseman and the City Council have pledged about $58 million in sewer improvements over the next several fiscal years. Some work has already been done, but the city has struggled to find contractors to do the work.

Since August 2015, when weeks of heavy rains led to more than 30 million gallons of spills and discharges, the city has discharged at least another 30 million gallons into Tampa Bay.

St. Petersburg isn't alone. A brief power outage led to nearly 1 million gallons being spilled into Tampa Bay by the city of Tampa at Hermine's height last week. A Clearwater sewer plant was temporarily out of service during the storm and many other cities and counties in the bay area reported violations to the state, including Pinellas County, which released more than 7 million gallons of mostly-treated sewage into Joe's Creek last week.

Many of those spills and dumps haven't been calculated yet, but it's safe to say tens of millions of gallons of sewage---from gushing manholes and clogged pipes to controlled dumps- have ended up where they shouldn't.

Since Friday, Clearwater, New Port Richey, Pinellas County, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and Pasco County also reported spills, according to notifications made to DEP.

St. Petersburg wasn't only reeling from five consecutive days of sewage discharges. City streets have been inundated from stormwater overflows as well. As of middday Tuesday, streets around Lake Maggiore are dealing with "standing water issues" and Salt Creek is high between Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 8th Street S, said Yolanda Fernandez, police department spokeswoman.