Rains pose health concerns as sewage flows into Tampa streets

People frolicked in flood waters as wastewater system overflowed


TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – US representatives Dennis Ross, David Jolly, and Kathy Castor sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asking it to declare a federal disaster in Tampa Bay.

One of the issues outlined in that letter is overflowing raw sewage. That is a problem Tampa is struggling to fix. The city will spend $7 million to increase the amount of wastewater its downtown station can pump.  The pump station is located in a building off Ashley Street near the USF park.

Overwhelmed by rain during last two weeks, sewage floated into the streets, posing a health concern for people who waded in it. They wouldn’t go near something like this in a pool, as evidenced in the famous scene from the movie ‘Caddy Shack,’ when a Baby Ruth candy bar floated by, mistaken for someone much less appetizing.

People frolicking in flood waters last week in Tampa as well as other communities had unexpected company in the water as well, and it was no candy bar. It was wastewater and sewage. Rain saturated the area, and the water table rose higher than wastewater pipes in the ground.  Storm water infiltrated the wastewater system forcing what goes down, to come back up.

“Any imperfections or cracks in our pipes allows that ground water to enter the waste water system, taking up capacity,” Eric Weiss, director of Tampa’s Wastewater department said.

Given the amount of rain, Weiss admits, infiltration is impossible to stop.

So how does the city reduce infiltration? Using cameras pulled through the pipes,  the city inspects its wastewater lines, looking for cracks or leaks.  Normally the city has a backlog of nine or 10 wastewater pipe cave-ins.  It now has a backlog of 102 cave-ins that Weiss attributes to the recent rain event.

“The heavy rains caused other problems as well,” he said. “The city has 225 wastewater pumping stations.  Two  flooded, which caused electrical problems, which in turn caused the wastewater to back up.  Wastewater came up through the manholes into the streets.”

Weiss claimed some homes were flooded due to wastewater, but most were flooded by storm water.

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