Sewage Spills: Hurricane Irma highlighted deficiencies in wastewater treatment

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma 88 million gallons of wastewater spilled into state waters, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

A million gallons of it came from the city of Arcadia where debris clogged a pump and pressurized pipes led to sewage spilling out of a manhole and into the Peace River.

Julie Karleskint, an environmental engineer contracted by the city, said what happened in Arcadia is one example of the statewide problem with aging infrastructure.

“These are old clay sewers so when they became pressurized they basically collapsed,” said Karleskint describing what happened in the days after Hurricane Irma.

Arcadia is one of 42 utilities around the state to enter that’s entered into a consent agreement with the DEP in the last year to upgrade problems that were exacerbated by the storm.

The DEP also assessed more than $400,000 in penalties.

DEP has provided some funding to help with the projects, but according to Karleskint it would take $30 million to fully upgrade Arcadia’s antiquated system which was originally built in the 1920’s.

“We are a rural community and we just don’t have that kind of rate base,” she said.

But since the hurricane, the city has replaced their pumps and is rehabilitating a pump station. They are also working to eliminate bottlenecks that were created in the old clay pipes and replace those pipes.

Bottlenecks were a culprit in Charlotte county as well, where around 600,000 gallons of wastewater spilled after the storm. Power outages that led to pump failures also contributed to the problem.

The county is spending nearly $25 million on upgrades which include upgrades pipes and adding generators

Generators have also been added in Lee and Collier counties and in the City of Fort Myers.

“We need to like put our priorities in this and it just shouldn’t be when we have an environmental disaster. We need to be doing it 100 percent,” said Karleskint.

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