For over 11 hours, a power failure caused by Hurricane Irma resulted in an estimated 3,390 gallons of storm water mixed with untreated sewage to flow into Clam Bayou beginning on Sunday, September 10.
Clam Bayou is a 170-acre estuary emptying directly into Boca Ciega Bay to the south and ultimately into Tampa Bay. The bayou shares shoreline boundaries with the cities of Gulfport to the west and St. Petersburg to the north and east. Clam Bayou has been the subject of numerous sewage spills during major rain events occurring over the past several years and as a result, local, state and national-level government groups, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are monitoring the area.
“St. Petersburg notified us about the spill with a Warning Point” document, said Don Sopak, director of public works in Gulfport. They said, “a power failure caused a lift station pump to stop.”
The water mix “weeped” out of a manhole cover located adjacent to the Twin Brooks Golf Course at the intersection of 24th Avenue S. and the Skyway Trail just east of 41st Street S., said Sopak.
Clam Bayou is located within 50 feet of the manhole.
According to the report, power failed at a lift station on Sunday at 9:44 p.m. “and it is estimated that discharge began at that time” at the manhole.
It flowed into a ditch then into the bayou, said Sopak.
“No reasonable actions could have been done to prevent this incident,” the report stated.
The five-gallon per minute flow was stopped after St. Petersburg “fixed the power problem” with a generator, said Sopak who was referring to the report.
“This is the only instance they reported to us” as being related to Irma, said Sopak in an interview with the Gabber on Monday, September 18.
Following State of Florida protocol, the city of St. Petersburg notified Gulfport officials of the over 1,000 gallon or greater discharge by email within 24 hours after the incident.
St. Petersburg did some subsequent water testing in their portion of the bayou on September 11 and 12 and “it looks like the fecal was up on most of that test,” said Sopak.
“We’ve been testing the water quality in Clam Bayou” according to Gulfport’s normal protocol, said Sopak. “We had elevated testing for two days, then it went back to [the status of] good. Our area is clean. It’s been running good for the last few days.”
This was a relatively minor overflow. In 2015, days of heavy rains in August forced the city of St. Petersburg to pump more than 15 million gallons of “partially treated” sewage into the nature preserve in an event that sparked much controversy, and changed the way St. Petersburg and Gulfport communicate on such issues. Both cities are in the process of sewer and storm system overhauls.