Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Sarasota County spills wastewater into area wetlands


Sarasota County Spills Millions Of Gallons Of Wastewater Into Area Wetlands

Sarasota County is under fire for the massive amount of treated wastewater that has spilled from its Bee Ridge treatment facility into local waterways. Three nonprofits have told the county they plan to sue if it cannot figure out how to stop the spillage.
The issue, said Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and executive director, Justin Bloom, is much more complicated than just an overflow of wastewater.
Sarasota County’s issues are two-fold, he said.
"Part one is the collection system, which is in disrepair and spills sewage, particularly when it rains a lot,” he explained. “Part two is the reuse system. It’s not a problem with their capacity to treat gallons of sewage. They’re able to treat the sewage the way the treatment facility is designed. The problem is there’s not a lot of demand for the treated wastewater.”
Mike Mylett, division manager for water and wastewater for Sarasota County public utilities, said demand for reclaimed water is down because of a wet winter season.
“People aren’t irrigating as much as they normally do so there’s more reclaimed water (left over).”
Bloom, however, argues that the reason demand is down is more complicated than that.
“There’s so much nitrogen in this partially treated wastewater that the end users don’t want it,” he said
Weir where excess water from Bee Ridge Water Treatment Plant is discharged
He added that documentation shows Sarasota County’s treated wastewater has 18 or 19 milligrams per liter of nitrogen. He used other plants like the city of Sarasota's and Bradenton's as a comparison, both of which have three or less miligrams per liter of nitrogen in their treated wastewater.
Rich plantlife in overflow pond beyond Water Treatment Plant Weir

“It is acknowledged throughout the scientific community that human sources of nitrogen significantly fuels red tide,” Bloom said. “So I'm making a connection between these failing sewage systems in Sarasota and throughout the region and increased nitrogen in our local waterways which fuels red tide."
This isn't the first time an area city has dealt with wastewater spillage into major waterways. In 2016 and 2017, the City of St. Petersburg was under scrutiny for the hundreds of millions of treated sewage waters that flowed into local waterways.
Stopping the Sarsota County spillage is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, said Bloom.
He claims, currently, the Bee Ridge treatment facility is spilling multiple gallons of treated wastewater on a daily basis into a wetland that leads to Phillippi Creek.
A long-term solution is already underway, according to Mylett. He said the county is working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to install two aquifer recharge wells to hold excess water.
The wells will cost about $14.2 million, and Mylett said funds are already secured.
“It’s part of the utility rates. That’s a normal capital improved project budgeted item.”
As far as addressing how the wastewater is treated and the amount of nitrogen in it, Sarasota County has not made any public statements about if they will be making changes.
Bloom said the county would benefit from upgrading the treatment system sooner rather than later. Coastal areas like Sarasota, he explained, must get in front of water pollution in whatever way they can.
“We know how to keep this out of our streams and creeks and estuaries. It's expensive, but the technology is there. We're learning more and more about how (wastewater) contributes a significant amount - more than I think was originally realized - of pollution, particularly nitrogen pollution in our estuaries.," he said. "We know how to fix it and the municipalities needs to step up and fix their systems.”
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  1. Anyone see anything questionable about protecting surface water by endangering drinking water? Aquifer "recharge" or "storage and recovery" wells merely create a new threat. The theory is the "treated" wastewater injected into the wells forms a bubble in the drinking water aquifer and doesn't migrate before it's withdrawn for irrigation. Unfortunately the reality doesn't necessarily live up to the theory. There is no guarantee the wastewater won't migrate laterally, especially in karst topography. The wastewater is not treated to remove drugs, hormones, pesticides, etc. nor is it tested for their presence. There aren't even government standards for levels of many chemicals found in wastewater. Despite the already serious wastewater issue, city and county governments continue to allow and promote development that bring tens of thousands of new residents into an area lacking the capacity to treat the wastewater already generated, let alone having a tertiary treatment system that would produce less dangerous wastewater. Perhaps deep injection wells, where wastewater or toxic chemicals are forced below the saline barrier under the aquifer, would be better? Unfortunately those areas with deep injection wells are already seeing the injected materials migrating into the aquifer.
    This is about greed and people who don't know anything about planning, infrastructure, the environment or apparently common sense making decisions based on how much short-term money can be made. The long-term and very negative financial, resource and health costs of this over-development and lack of modern infrastructure such as tertiary treatment of wastewater are already beginning to emerge and will only increase unless someone with actual training and experience somehow gets in charge. Highly unlikely.

    1. Thank you for offering this. There is a pattern that seems to run through certain municipalities in our area in which can be seen a complete rupture of decision processes. Folks who are supposed to plan seem to not know what operations folks are doing, and vice versa. They might not even report to the same people. This can result in the sort of clueless mayhem you describe. I have seen children organize groups to function to sensible objectives, but it's difficult to find that cohesion and common sense in this banana republic, ruled for 50 years by the same party that now denies climate change.

    2. This story offers a broader look at the widespread negligence of sewer and wastewater systems across the state: