Over 65 people filled the Gulfport Neighborhood Center to near capacity on Wednesday, April 27 to listen to a four-member panel present information about the current status of Clam Bayou, the 170-acre estuary located between Gulfport and St. Petersburg that drains into Boca Ciega Bay.
“I’m thrilled that many people with diverse backgrounds showed up,” said Gulfport Ward 3 Councilwoman Yolanda Roman who moderated the event. “The key take away is to move forward beyond what occurred with the dump.”
In August 2015, an “extraordinary” rainstorm occurred in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties that caused area sanitary sewer pumping stations to be overwhelmed. In the city of St. Petersburg, this led officials to release raw sewage into Clam Bayou to prevent portions of the city from flooding, said Mary Yeargan, director of the southwest district for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Every community suffered wastewater problems,” she said.
Topics covered by the panel speakers were integrated and “helped people to understand facts and reality,” Roman said. Given that Clam Bayou is sensitive, she said, people need to “think about how to take care of the city’s aging sewer system.” This includes sewer systems related to the area’s older homes.
“Don’t flush the wipes!” Yeargan said. Even though a package may say it’s flushable doesn’t mean it is, she said. Products like personal wipes along with fats, oils and grease help to clog municipal sewer pipes creating blockages called FOG (i.e. fats, oils and grease) that lead to backups and spills.
Orangeburg sewer pipe is made of paper and tar and is “worthless,” said Yeargan. Homes with this kind of decades-old system have sewage going into the yard. The pipes need to be replaced.
However, despite potential leakage from aging sewer systems, “data demonstrates there is no human waste in Clam Bayou right now,” Yeargan said. “For the most part, discharge facilities work.”
Said Roman of action regarding Clam Bayou, “Collaboration and creative ways to fund potential action working with the state legislature or seeking grants are possible next steps.”
Panel members were Mark Luther, associate professor at USF in physical oceanography whose topic was sea level rise research regarding Clam Bayou; Robert Weisberg, professor at USF in physical oceanography speaking on the role of water circulation and quality in Clam Bayou and the bay; Valerie J. Harwood, professor and chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at USF speaking on how storm water impacts surface water quality; and Yeargan speaking on how extreme rainfall events challenge waste water systems.