Due to massive rainfalls earlier this month during Hurricane Hermine, St. Petersburg sewage treatment systems began discharging partially treated sewage, comingled with rain water, into Tampa Bay. This has resulted in over 111 million gallons of sewer overflows in the Bay.
While this obviously constitutes a failure in St. Petersburg infrastructure and a threat to public health, residents and the City Council were not notified of the sewage contamination until September 7, a day after they stopped pumping waste into the Bay.
City officials are saying the water is clean, but their own monitoring says otherwise. GRN has completed an analysis of the monitoring data [download pdf of report here] and has found the following:
• There are still high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in waters they are sampling.
• They have stopped sampling in 16 of 23 sampling sites, without adequate evidence or repetitive sampling that conclusively shows there is no longer a sewage pollution problem.
• All of their sampling sites do not meet the suite of state-mandated water quality criteria.
• Sampling sites might not be representative of the Bay as a whole.
As a result of our analysis, GRN recommends that:
• More monitoring sites should be added, focusing on areas of constricted flow and areas of recreation (not just beaches).
• A protocol should be set up to decide when monitoring should be slowed down. We recommend, at a minimum, utilizing the criteria in Florida Regulations.
• Replace warning signs in all areas, as our analysis shows that there is still a threat of contamination in all areas.
• Be extremely transparent regarding negotiations with Florida DEP and US EPA in addressing this issue in the future.
This sewage overflow has been approached poorly by the city and the city has not been transparent in how it deems the waters “safe.” The City needs to follow the law, keep its citizens safe, protect the bay, and be transparent on how it will address this issue in the future.
To view the full GRN report go to: [insert link to report]
Matt is GRN's Senior Policy Director