Sewer Overflows During Extreme Rain Events Can Be Prevented
Most Pinellas County residents are aware that Hurricane Hermine brought large volumes of rain water to the Tampa Bay area which in turn flooded the sanitary sewer systems, resulting in wastewater releases from area utilities.
Storm water can penetrate the wastewater sewer system through leaky manhole covers, cracked or broken sewer pipes, and unauthorized connections between sewer pipes and storm water pipes. Extreme rain events can stress wastewater sewer systems resulting in sanitary sewer overflows due to the sheer volume of excess water. When a sewer system is over capacity, sewage can back up into people’s homes. To avoid this threat to health and safety, wastewater releases may occur if there is no other feasible alternative.
Fortunately, the overall impact of short-term wastewater discharges to our surface waters is usually temporary. Our bays, rivers and gulf are constantly moving, which results in the dissipation and dilution of wastewater contaminants, with fecal matter typically dying within 3-5 days after exposure to sunlight. After a discharge, the responsible party performs water quality sampling until it returns to conditions prior to the discharge; these sampling results are submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection as part of its review of the incident and regulatory jurisdiction over the wastewater facility.
The Florida Department of Health issues health advisories when bacteria levels present a risk to human health, and may also post warning signs when bacteria affect public beaches or other areas where there is the risk of human exposure. More information on DOH’s sampling results and advisories is available through their Healthy Beaches Program here: http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/beach-water-quality/index.html
There are ways you can help. An average household of four can produce as much as 400 gallons or more of wastewater per day. Residents can help avoid an overflow by following these tips around their home to put less water in the sewer system, especially during heavy rains.
- Check underground wastewater pipes of homes built before 1985. Many homes built prior to 1985 were built with clay pipes or Orangeburg pipes, which are made only of paper and tar. Also, check your cleanouts to make sure the caps are on securely.
- Postpone doing loads of laundry and dishes during periods of heavy rainfall, if possible. Remember that all dish and laundry wastewater gets sent to wastewater treatment plants that may already be dealing with excess water.
- Do not water the lawn if it is raining.
- Check hose and sprinkler connections for leaks – a drop wasted each second can add up to a couple of gallons each day.
- On slopes, plant native species that will retain water and help reduce runoff.
- Most importantly, never let your children or grandchildren play in flood waters; it is simply unsanitary.
Conserving water during a flood may sound counterintuitive, but it can make a huge difference when wastewater treatment facilities are at capacity. Water conservation protects an essential resource, and it can also protect our homes and our environment from sewer overflows. For more information on storm water safety, visit dep.state.fl.us.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection