Advertisement
  1. News

Sunshine City? More like the Leaky City: St. Petersburg's sewage problem tied to pipe leaks

Warning signs adorned St. Petersburg’s coastline in September while the city dumped tens of millions of gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine’s rains overwhelmed the sewer system. The City Council on Thursday learned that part of the problem could be aging, leaky pipes that allow groundwater into the sewer system. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 21, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City is more like the Leaky City.

On an average day without rain, about two-thirds of St. Petersburg's sewage flow is made up of groundwater entering leaky sewer pipes, consultants told the City Council on Thursday.

But when it rains, those leaky pipes are deluged. That results in a spike of sewage, overwhelming the city's sewer system.

Those ancient, overwhelmed pipes appear to be one of the major factors behind the 200 million gallons of waste released during St. Petersburg's 14-month sewage crisis, according to a preliminary analysis by a wastewater consultant.

The study is based on the three weeks of rain that saturated the city in August 2015. Once the consultants gather all the data, they'll be able to simulate various rain scenarios that could cause the kinds of problems that resulted from Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine.

The analysis found that aging, leaky pipes are present in much of the city. Critically damaged parts of the system are concentrated in areas around Lake Maggiore, Old Southeast and the west-central areas of the city.

That bad news actually eased City Council member Karl Nurse's mind. That's because now the city can focus on fixing those pipes.

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

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

Public works administrator Claude Tankersley said that he wants to spend all of the $8 million 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 to help avoid the kind of overflows that have befouled Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay.

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.

The firm's study monitors 82 points around the city and neighboring beach towns that send their sewage to St. Petersburg for treatment.

Water gets into the sewers in various ways. Manholes that don't have proper covering allow water to seep into the lines. Private sewer lines are also notorious for allowing groundwater in, although there isn't data yet on whether that's the case in St. Petersburg.

And then there is the age of the pipes themselves. Some are up to a century old. Others are made of "orangeburg," a type of sewer pipe popular until the 1960s made of pressed wood pulp and pitch. Those lines are well past being useful, Tankersley said.

Even on dry days, about 24 million gallons of groundwater seeps into the sewers. That's about double the 12 million gallons or so of human waste that makes its way through the system, Tankersley said.

The city has a sewage capacity of 56 million gallons during an average day. But during Hermine, the system saw peak flows of up to 150 million gallons a day, much of which ended up in waterways and roadways.

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 beneath the city's streets.

His predecessor, Mike Connors, retired last year after the first spills. Last month, Mayor Rick Kriseman placed water resources director Steve Leavitt and engineering director Tom Gibson on unpaid leave in connection with the city's sewage issues, which are being investigated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

One of the conclusions that surprised council member Charlie Gerdes was the amount of groundwater that — even on rainless days — ends up in the city's sewer pipes.

"That's mind-blowing," he said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @CharlieFrago.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report. ERIC RISBERG  |  AP
    That figure includes 229 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Both robbers were shot and killed, and the fourth victim was in a nearby vehicle when shots rang out at a crowded intersection in Miramar.
  3. Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Adam's fight over school restrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. The district has since appealed. RON HARRIS  |  AP
    The closely watched case of Drew Adams, once a high school student in Florida, is heard by a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
  4. Previous competitions did not round up a lot of the invasive snakes
  5. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
  6. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  7. The snow park in Pasco County will be known Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park and is scheduled to open in November 2020. Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park
    The park in rural east Pasco anticipates opening in November 2020.
  8. Workers repair a broken pressurized sewer line along 62nd Avenue N. JAY CONNER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private sewer pipes have always been the responsibility of property owners. Now if city officials notice a problem, they can force a homeowner to make repairs.
  9. Richard Taormino is accused of beating and raping a woman in an abandoned mobile home park, according to St. Petersburg police. [Pinellas County jail] Pinellas County jail
    Richard Taormino, 44, faces three counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon and one count of kidnapping.
  10. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Her truck hit two trees and caught fire, troopers said. She was airlifted to a hospital but died of her injuries.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement