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  1. Pasco

New Port Richey plant spills 150,000 gallons of wastewater into Cross Bayou

NEW PORT RICHEY — West Pasco's sensitive maze of marine ecosystem off the Gulf of Mexico took a hit May 4 after 300,000 gallons of wastewater spilled from a ruptured pipe in New Port Richey's sewage treatment plant.

The city discovered the breach at 7 a.m. and stopped the leak at 10:15 a.m., according a report to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Half of the spill remained on land, but approximately 150,000 gallons seeped into Cross Bayou, part of the lower coastal watershed that flows to the Gulf of Mexico.

A 20-inch pipe ruptured on an aeration tank at the facility, said city public works director Robert Rivera. The tank sits on 15 acres at 4730 Main Street., off Sea Forest Drive and west of U.S. 19.

On Tuesday evening, city officials expressed remorse over the spill, but said it could have been worse. The tank holds up to 1.6 million gallons of wastewater for treatment, and crews feared that contaminated water would flood surface water near the plant.

"Our crews responded unbelievably," Rivera told City Council members. "For our staff to perform the way they did and follow protocol, I can't say enough."

The cause of the rupture is unknown, he said. It occurred in a 30-year-old pipe that has a life expectancy of more than 100 years. Rivera told the council that the break was not the result of poor maintenance or a lack of oversight by the city.

"This really concerns me. I am not happy about it. It's a very unfortunate thing that happened," Rivera said. "But they do happen in our business. I believe that from the top down, we supplied everything we could when it came to maintaining that plant."

The city's report to the state said the "area has been cleaned up and disinfected.''

The Florida Department of Health in Pasco County said it planned water quality tests at nearby Robert K. Reese Memorial Park, Green Key Beach, on Wednesday, five days ahead of its normal schedule. The city also is taking samples and will examine its infrastructure, Rivera said.

Rivera said he hopes the incident will shed a light on the gigantic enterprise that is New Port Richey's wastewater plant, a facility he called a "beast." It processed more than 2 billion gallons of wastewater last year, costs $3 million a year to run, and provides New Port Richey a million gallons per day of treated water for use, according to the city's website. The facility also pumps about 4.5 million gallons of treated water to Pasco County Utilities for use throughout the county, according to the website.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey said the city needs to take steps to avoid another spill. He also praised the staff for avoiding the worst-case scenarios.

"To see something like this happen is really unfortunate. I commend you and your staff for doing such a great job in stopping as much as you could," Starkey told Rivera.

Staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.