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Pasco, Hernando and Tarpon Springs provide information on sewage spills

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Hermine brushed by Tampa Bay, more specific numbers are trickling in about the extent of the sewage that was dumped on purpose because of inundated systems, spilled from tanks filled to the brim or what gushed out of overflowing manholes.

That total isn't pretty. Tampa Bay now has at least 160 million gallons of sewage, millions of it raw and the rest of its treated to some level in its waterways and watershed.

On Tuesday, Pasco County officials said 24 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater spilled when a storage pond overflowed at its Embassy Hills plant east of U.S. 19.

The sewage spill happened in the days after Hermine. The wastewater had been treated with chlorine but had not been filtered.

"The filter capacity was just exceeded,'' said Flip Mellinger, Pasco County's assistant county administrator for utilities.

The plant, which has the ability to treat 7.5 million gallons of wastewater daily, was operating with about 4.5 million gallons (60 percent capacity) when Hermine brought 10 to 15 inches of rain to portions of Pasco County. The stormwater increased flow to the plant to 14 to 20 million gallons of water daily, Mellinger said.

"No way we could handle it,'' he said.

The sewage overflowed to an adjoining ditch that eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The plant resumed normal operations Sept. 7.

In Hernando County, three wastewater facilities ireported spills hours from Hermine.

In the city of Brooksville, a spill of 42,000 gallons was reported from the Cortez pump station. The sewage flowed out of the station into surrounding surface waters including Horse Lake, said city public works director Richard Radacky.

City workers shut off pumps in the station before dawn on September 2 after several feet of water inundated the building threatening to potentially cause electric shocks.

Radacky said that, after more than 10 inches of rain was reported during the storm, there was just too much for the pump station and the aging pipes that are often infiltrated by storm water.

Two spills in western Hernando County were reported in early afternoon. One was in Hernando Beach near Hermosa Boulevard and Shoal Line Boulevard and the other in Weeki Wachee near Shoal Line Boulevard and Tropical Drive.

Those spills were 36,000 gallons and 6,000 respectively.

"The combination of a loss of commercial power along with the inundation of coastal storm surge and stormwater into the sanitary sewer system caused the incidents,'' said county spokeswoman Virginia Singer.

In all three instances, utility workers reported to the DEP that lime was applied and the effected areas were cleaned.

In Tarpon Springs, a small spill of nearly 16,000 gallons was reported due to the storm, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

With so much sewage stinking up the air, especially around St. Petersburg, where more than 70 millon gallons was dumped into Tampa Bay, there have been success stories.

Hillsborough County Utilities didn't have any spills. And Pinellas County Utilities, which did have a 7.3 million gallon release during the storm at its South Cross Bayou plant, didn't have any spills from its Dunn wastewater facility in Palm Harbor despite flows more than twice the normal daily average, said Randi Kim, the utility's director.

St. Petersburg dumped into the bay to avoid spills at its Southwest plant. The city's Northwest plant did have a spill, but details haven't been provided yet. Only the city's Northeast sewer plant escaped Hermine unscathed.

A EPA spokeswoman at the federal agency's regional office in Atlanta said the EPA was aware of the sewage problems in Tampa Bay, but didn't plan any independent action at this time.

Staff Writer Megan Reeves contributed to this report.