Withlacoochee River draws concerns of contamination in Hernando, Pasco counties

RIDGE MANOR, Fla. (WFLA) – The Withlacoochee River is no longer rising after cresting Thursday, according to Hernando County officials.

But officials are still concerned about what may be in the water, and how it might affect thousands of families in both Hernando and Pasco counties.  

Many living along SR 50 near Dade City and Ridge Manor worry that septic tanks could lead to possible contamination of drinking water in wells.

“I’ve heard people talking like; I don’t want to get in it. Once again, none of us wants to get in it but we got to do what we got to do,” Rick Bowman a Ridge Manor resident says.  The water is at his doorstep.

“A lot of dead fish, the smells from septic tanks and everything. If you go further in the back and wade through the water, you can smell everything,” Bowman says.

Hernando County officials don’t want residents to go into the water but suggest wearing waders or rubber boots if people must go in.

People with private wells are urged to have them tested and disinfected.

The water is expected to slowly recede, making a noticeable drop in level sometime Monday or Tuesday.

Hernando County officials released the following tips Thursday on how to handle septic tanks and well maintenance after the water recedes.

Low to moderate fish kills are occurring in the Withlacoochee River likely as the result of lower dissolved oxygen levels associated with flooding due to Hurricane Irma. As the water level reaches flood stage and inundation of the floodplain occurs, organic matter from the swamps and wetlands disperses causing the dissolved oxygen levels to decrease. The decomposition of leaves, tannins, muck and woody debris consumes oxygen, reducing concentrations needed for fish to survive. This is a natural process that is heightened by warm temperatures.

Residents should know that wading through flood waters is dangerous; but if you do, please take precautions such as wearing waders or rubber boots

Information from the Health Department:

If Your Home is Served by a Septic Tank:

*          If your plumbing is functioning slowly, you should conserve water as much as possible.  Minimize the use of washing machines and flush toilets only as necessary.  Utilize portable toilets where provided.  Go to a Laundromat.  Rental of a portable toilet for a temporary period may be another option. Fix any plumbing leaks as soon as possible.

*          DO NOT have the septic tank pumped.  Exceptionally high water tables might crush a septic tank that was pumped dry.  If the fundamental problem is high ground water, pumping the tank does nothing to solve that problem.

*          If you cannot use your plumbing without creating a sanitary nuisance, i.e., without sewage being exposed, consider moving to a new location until conditions improve.

*          Do not have your septic system repaired until the ground has dried up.  Septic systems are generally functional once flood waters go down.  Remember – if your system was damaged, repairs must be permitted and inspected by the county health department.

If Your Home is served by a private well after the flooding subsides:

*          Disinfect your private well using the procedures available from DOH-Hernando or visit the Florida Department of Health website: http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/private-well-testing/index.html

*          You may also visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) website for instructions: http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/well/whatdo.cfm

*          To further know if your water is safe, have your water tested by a certified laboratory for coliform bacteria if available. To find a certified laboratory, visit the following website: https://fldeploc.dep.state.fl.us/aams/index.asp

*          If your water system is under a boil water notice:

o          Boil the water before drinking, holding it in a rolling boil for one minute, or

o          Use bottled water for drinking.

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