The three largest cities in the Tampa Bay area have spilled almost 1-million gallons of wastewater combined in recent days, records from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection show.
Clearwater was responsible for the largest spill, which happened Friday and involved 750,000 gallons of wastewater. It also had a much smaller spill the day before.
Tampa had a spill the same day that resulted in about 38,000 gallons of wastewater flowing onto property and into a stormwater ditch. St. Petersburg has reported three incidents since Friday, which together poured about 70,000 gallons into the storm water system.
Heavy rains last week contributed to the Tampa spill, though the rain did not appear to affect what happened in St. Petersburg. It was unclear what role, if any, stormwater runoff played in the Clearwater incidents.
Cities are required by law to post public notices of spills to a state Department of Environmental Protection website within 24 hours of the incident being discovered. While it appears Clearwater and Tampa met that deadline, St. Petersburg was late reporting two of its spills.
The St. Petersburg incidents are the latest in its ongoing sewage saga, which peaked in 2015 and 2016 and has resulted in more than one-billion gallons of wastewater being dumped, much of which made it into Tampa Bay.
The first of the recent spills happened Thursday, when water levels at Clearwater's Northeast Water Treatment Facility in Safety Harbor overflowed, spilling about 38,000 gallons, according to a report city water officials sent to the state. The spill remained on the facility's property and did not reach the storm water system, officials said.
A partially blocked pipe was a factor in Tampa's spill, which caused about 38,000 gallons of wastewater to overflow into a storm ditch adjacent to E Adamo Drive and onto low-lying property at 6501 E Adamo Drive, its report said. Crews were sent out to clean up the site.
The next day, the same Clearwater facility had another, much larger spill. Three-quarters of a million gallons poured out. Officials said that spill did not leave the facility's property or reach the stormwater system.
St. Petersburg's first incident happened Friday night, when a corroded clamp failed and about 29,000 gallons of reclaimed water leaked from a pipe along Brightwaters Boulevard NE, which is in Snell Isle, according to a report. About 1,366 gallons soaked into the ground and the rest entered a storm drain on the 1900 block of Brightwaters Boulevard. Officials said they posted signs warning of contamination and had begun testing.
The second incident happened Saturday night, when a reclaimed water pipe sprang a leak along the 6100 block of 16th Lane NE, alongside the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility in Shore Acres, officials wrote. When workers tried to close a valve to stop the leak, the valve broke, causing a second leak. In all, about 4,000 gallons of water spilled, almost all of it entering a storm drain which leads to a nearby lake, the report said.
The third incident happened Sunday, along the 1800 block of Mississippi Avenue NE, also in Shore Acres. Another clamp failed, allowing reclaimed water to pour for about 4½ hours before it was repaired. About 40,000 gallons escaped. Officials estimate all but about 500 gallons flowed into a nearby storm drain that leads to a canal connected to Tampa Bay. Signs were posted and testing began there, too, according to the city.
Notice of St. Petersburg's three spills happened Monday morning, outside of the 24-hour period for the Friday and Saturday spills, Department of Environmental Protection records show.
City officials posted notices of all three spills to the city's website, following protocol established this month after the Tampa Bay Times revealed officials failed to post notices there, which had been their practice.
All of those spills are dwarfed by a 5.4 million-gallon incident that happened a few weeks ago at the Falkenburg Advanced Wastewater treatment plant in Hillsborough County — the largest spill of the year in Hillsborough. Officials in St. Petersburg, weary of being singled out for sewage problems, brought up the incident at a Dec. 13 City Council meeting.
St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin cited the Hillsborough spill as evidence that the city wasn't alone in sanitary sewage malfunctions. She also noted that the media did not report it at the time. Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration has long complained of unfair media treatment of its sewage problems, sometimes comparing smaller spills in other cities, especially Tampa, to its larger discharges.
Unlike the water that spilled recently in St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County's version of reclaimed water receives another level of treatment that allows it to be discharged directly into Tampa Bay, said county public utilities director George Cassady.
St. Petersburg's reclaimed water isn't allowed to be discharged into waterways because it hasn't been treated to nearly the same level as Hillsborough's version.
"It's not even comparable," Cassady said.
Hillsborough wastewater officials said they didn't alert the media or public to its spill because the high-quality water posed no environmental threat. But Cassady said they will update their policy to send out a media alert when future spills of that nature occur.
"Because it's important," Cassady said.
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