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St. Petersburg plans to drill new wells to help solve sewage crisis

St. Petersburg officials have proposed digging four deep wasterwater wells to help prevent more dumping of sewage into Tampa Bay and other waterways. Here, a beach is closed for swimming at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Sept. 13, 2016, after heavy rains forced the city to pump millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into the waters of Tampa Bay.  [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
St. Petersburg officials have proposed digging four deep wasterwater wells to help prevent more dumping of sewage into Tampa Bay and other waterways. Here, a beach is closed for swimming at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Sept. 13, 2016, after heavy rains forced the city to pump millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into the waters of Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Jan. 11, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — A key part of solving the city's sewage crisis lies underground.

Or, more precisely, four wells drilled up to 1,100 feet into the Earth over the next year that are designed to safely dispose of fully treated wastewater.

If all goes well, the city hopes to have at least one of the wells ready by rainy season.

The injection wells are the way the city disposes of treated waste from its three sewage plants that isn't used for reclaimed water, pumping it hundreds of feet below the part of the Floridan aquifer that's used for drinking water and into the aquifer's brackish layer. State law requires that the sewage flushed down the wells be treated to the level of reclaimed water — what thousands of city residents sprinkle on their lawns.

The city will hold a public information session today about the plan.

Heavy rains overwhelmed the city's Southwest sewage plant near Eckerd College in August 2015, leading to more than 30 million gallons spilled around the college and Clam Bayou. In 2016, nearly 170 million more gallons were dumped into Tampa Bay or spilled at the Northwest plant, in part because sewage flow was being diverted from the Southwest plant to prevent it from being overrun again.

The four new wells — two on the Southwest plant property and two at the nearby 31st Street Sports Complex — will increase the plant's disposal capacity over the next two years to 110 million gallons per day up from the current 45 million gallons per day.

Each of the wells will cost between $2 million and $3 million. Work could begin by late February.

The wells are part of Mayor Rick Kriseman's $304 million plan to fix the city's sewage woes. The city's sewage spills and dumps have sparked state and federal investigations and a pending Department of Environmental Protection consent order, which mandates the city fix its aging sewers and either pay more than $800,000 in penalties or spend an equivalent amount on improvements.

So far, the public interest in the wells has been muted.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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