1. News

Workers stem flow of sewage spilling from pipe near Joe's Creek (w/video)

Workers on Tuesday tighten a fitting on the sewer bypass pipe behind a house on Sundown Drive N.
Workers on Tuesday tighten a fitting on the sewer bypass pipe behind a house on Sundown Drive N.
Published Oct. 1, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The sewage spilled for days from a burst pipe on 62nd Avenue N, carrying harmful bacteria that could reach Joe's Creek and Boca Ciega Bay, imperiling swimmers and a bevy of wildlife.

About 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, workers were finally able to contain the rupture by installing a thick PVC pipe to bypass the broken 20-inch iron pipe that has spewed sewage since Saturday night, said Pinellas emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino.

It's unclear how much of that sewage made its way to Joe's Creek. County authorities used vacuum trucks to gather water from the spill. In the first 24 hours after the break, Iovino said, the trucks had sucked up about a half-million gallons of sewage.

Early Tuesday morning, county water workers teamed with state environmental officials to test water in Joe's Creek, Cross Bayou and northern Boca Ciega Bay, according to Iovino. The results of those tests were pending early Tuesday afternoon.

Until that testing is complete, environmental experts said it is difficult to gauge just how harmful the spill will be. But they cautioned that a large amount of sewage could generate algae blooms and dangerous bacteria.

Liquid sewage, like manure on land, is loaded with nutrients, said Ernst B. Peebles, a biological oceanography professor at the University of South Florida. Those nutrients could give birth to algae blooms that would place a "heavy demand on the oxygen supply in the water."

Beyond the fish that depend on this oxygen, Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch, said algae blooms would also hurt the recovery of sea grass in parts of Boca Ciega Bay.

If the spilled sewage manages to drift from Joe's Creek through Cross Bayou and into the bay, it will reach a section of shallow water thick with oyster beds, Clark said.

Wading birds such as ibises and herons are found throughout the area. Michael Cole, of Tampa Fishing Outfitters, said few boats can ride into such shallow water, but there are redfish, snook, trout, and tarpon in northern Boca Ciega Bay. He said the tidal pools and shallows also are a popular kayaking spot.

Bacteria from the sewage would also pose a threat to swimmers and could cause intestinal issues or eye irritation, according to Clark. The county said the spill does not affect drinking water.

"It could make you very sick," Clark said.

Officials say people should refrain from recreational activities in Joe's Creek, Cross Bayou, Long Bayou, and northern Boca Ciega Bay until further notice.

Iovino said he did not know early Tuesday if Pinellas would face environmental fines.

Any environmental cleanup will depend on how much sewage reached the creek or bay. Because the water is shallow, Peebles said, the wind and tide will mix it quickly, helping keep oxygen levels up if algae blooms result.

Still, he said, the spill came at a bad time because of the warm weather.

"The warmer it is, the worse these events are on the ecology just because warm water doesn't hold as much oxygen as cold water," he said.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson.


  1. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando  [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Hyde House in Hyde Park Village on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Tampa.  [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
  3. FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, Disney CEO Robert Iger arrives at the world premiere of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker", in Los Angeles  The Walt Disney Co. has named Bob Chapek CEO, replacing Bob Iger, effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.  (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, FIle) [JORDAN STRAUSS  |  Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]
  4. 7/6/01 Coleman, Fl.   Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fl. in Sumter County. The prison's women's camp has confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease [CLIFF MCBRIDE  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  5. U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R- Dover, recently repeated the defense he’s offered since his 2018 election over illegal contributions to his campaign. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times (2017)]
  6. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [TMCCARTY  |  times staff]
  7. Ryan Lotito Sr., left, of Spring Hill pitches to his son Ryan Lotito Jr. to work on his swing techniques at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Spring Hill.
  8. Two firms have acquired majority ownership of Univision Communications Inc., the largest provider of Spanish-language television in the U.S. [Miami Herald]
  9. Tourists take pictures of the Olympics rings Monday, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) [JAE C. HONG  |  AP]
  10. In this June 17, 2019, file photo, a cashier displays a packet of tobacco-flavored Juul pods at a store in San Francisco. Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.  (AP Photo/Samantha Maldonado, File) [SAMANTHA MALDONADO  |  AP]
  11. Residents at Tampa Park Apartments have been told they must move out by Nov. 1 because the 21-acre property between downtown Tampa and Ybor City has been sold. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  12. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]