St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says the city’s raw sewage discharge in August 2015 into Clam Bayou was a wakeup call for St. Petersburg to overhaul its aging infrastructure.
After more than a month of heavy rains overburdened wastewater systems across the Tampa Bay area, city officials had two unsavory options to choose from, Kriseman said during a press conference held at Clam Bayou on Nov. 15.
Clam Bayou Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg is the last remaining tidal estuary on Boca Ciega Bay.
“It was incredibly frustrating with the choices that we had to make at the time,” Kriseman told a crowd of roughly 30 reporters and onlookers. “Do we have raw sewage back up in the toilets in people’s homes and flow down the streets, or do we discharge partially treated wastewater into the bay? Neither option was good. Obviously, that’s the one we chose.”
Kriseman told reporters gathered at the press conference he learned of the situation when Creative Loafing reporter Cathy Salustri called him to ask about the sewage discharge.
While Kriseman said his office was unaware such city discharges were being made, he said the incident made him realize St. Petersburg’s storm and wastewater systems were broken.
“Heavy rainfalls over the next two years led to more overflows, discharges and fines,” Kriseman said. Since that 2015 discharge and the subsequent media coverage, St. Petersburg has spent over $280 million to repair its aging water system infrastructure.
Kriseman said St. Petersburg’s water infrastructure “is in a better position today than we’ve probably been in decades.”
Accompanied by Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley and Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin, Kriseman’s appearance was part of his planned 18-event “St. Pete’s Faring Well Tour” to highlight the mayor’s accomplishments made during his two-term tenure.
Kriseman said the city’s water infrastructure is still aging, and will need more work – with an estimated $3 billion price tag – over the next 20 years.
“It’s ambitious and it’s expensive,” Kriseman said. “We want to make it very clear; we are not done yet. This is not an announcement of `mission accomplished,’ this an announcement that this mission is being advanced every day.”
Kriseman placed the city’s revamped water infrastructure near the top of his mayoral accomplishment list.
“Cities, not just here in St. Petersburg, have for a long time been kicking the can down the road when it comes to infrastructure, and doing the minimum that they had to, as opposed to what they needed to,” Kriseman said.
“Unfortunately, we found out the hard way the condition of our infrastructure system,” Kriseman added. “But I was determined that we weren’t going to just keep kicking the can – we were going to do something tangible.”
Tankersley said the city’s long-range water infrastructure plan will take into account the likelihood of continuing climate change – that includes more rainstorms – over the next two decades.
“Our scientists and engineers that came up with that 20–year plan, actually used computer models assuming increased population and also increased rainfall and increased sea level rises,” Tankersley said. “The model makes sure that we know what is needed to do to address these issues.”