On Tuesday, June 7, during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Colin, St. Pete Beach sent their sanitary sewer system flow first into Boca Ciega Bay, then to St. Petersburg, but “they never discharged into Clam Bayou as that is geographically impossible,” said Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson during Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Just before noon on Tuesday in a telephone interview, Benjamin Kirby, communications director for the city of St. Petersburg, said their sanitary sewer system was “strained right now. We had some minor issues with back flow in a few manhole covers in the northeast and with one by Clam Bayou.
“To be abundantly clear, certainly no pumping into Clam Bayou.”
What did happen in the area of the bayou and the Twin Brooks Golf Course is “overflow spillage out of a manhole cover,” Kirby said.
Tuesday morning, St. Petersburg began taking sanitary sewer flow from St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Gulfport, he said. By late morning, St. Pete Beach was sending all of their flow to St. Petersburg.
“All systems around the region” were strained on Tuesday, said Kirby. The strain eventually caused St. Petersburg to begin “discharging partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay from the Albert Whitted wastewater facility,” according to a city news release. The “discharge outfall is located approximately one-quarter of a mile into Tampa Bay, east of Albert Whitted Airport.” Residents are asked to avoid contact with the water in that area of Tampa Bay.
The overflow issues are “like what happened last August,” Kirby explained. “Our public works administrator described as a ‘significant rain event.’ We obviously had a similar last year not as intense.”
Last August, the multi-day storm created a “storage capacity issue,” Henderson said. “This one was more of capacity moving through the conduits. There was still storage capacity.”
In Gulfport, the sanitary sewer system “is primarily all gravity,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly during Tuesday’s council meeting. Following an official protocol established last year, at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Gulfport notified St. Petersburg that a discharge had happened in the area of 31st Ave. S. and 50th St. S. “The pressure and volume meet at the lowest point in the city before it goes to the lift system. To release the pressure, the manhole cover has to come off.”
By 10:45 a.m., St. Petersburg followed protocol and notified Gulfport that they had experienced a similar circumstance with a manhole cover in the Twin Brooks area of their system and that the discharge would end up in Clam Bayou, O’Reilly said.
“These are overflows and not pumping directly into a body of water,” Henderson said during the meeting. “They followed their protocol and I’m really glad to hear we followed ours.”
But, “there were multiple manholes in that location,” said Daniel Liedtke, Gulfport councilmember for Ward 1. “St. Petersburg advised us of only one,” O’Reilly said.
Each city must file a report to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) when discharges occur.
“Can we get the report they will be submitting on this particular discharge?” asked Yolanda Roman, Gulfport councilmember for Ward 3. “The last reports we got were very specific to location, address and amount. I imagine it’s water. Do we know what was discharged? Just water?”
Water “popping out of the manhole – that’s raw , right?” said Liedtke.
“Yes,” said O’Reilly. “It is diluted with the volume of water. As soon as we submit our report, we’ll ask for theirs at the same time.”
Council members then asked the city staff to conduct normal testing of water at the Municipal Marina, the bayou and the beach in addition to placing contamination signs at Clam Bayou.
St. Petersburg placed contamination signs at the bayou around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Liedtke said.
“To be up front,” Liedtke said, “ Kriseman has been forthcoming on some of this stuff. made an announcement that there was an overflow condition in the neighborhood near the bayou. But he wasn’t forthcoming when he said it doesn’t appear to be a significant event because it’s still flowing.”
St. Petersburg is building “20-30-40-story buildings and no extra capacity” to their sanitary sewer system is being built,” Roman said. “It’s almost like notice to Gulfport that this will be an everyday occurrence for major storms.”