The Calamity Of The Century, & Then Again, In St. Petersburg, Florida — Tropical Storm & Sewage Crisis
Unchecked development causes many urban crises with water problems. Troubles such as too much impervious infrastructure are overwhelmed when strong storms arrive. A recently reported crisis in St. Petersburg, Florida — “The Calamity of the Century” — examines one of the many water problems of this complex environmental conundrum in South Florida.
The plight of the Gulf Coast and all of Florida’s ecosystems, waterways, storm management, and water issues is a critical matter. On this occasion, news from St. Petersburg tells of the terrible results from an overwhelmed sewage system. The issues are part of a conundrum of ecological woes the state is facing.
Living in the Environment, Principles, Connections, and Solutions delves in a comprehensive, in-depth discussion revealing truths that legislation and consumers do not acknowledge — at least, not well enough. For example, the South Florida Everglades were once 100 kilometers wide, softly percolating from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Presently, the Everglades is half that size or less.
Originally a sweeping pattern of wetlands, a “river of grass,” the Everglades now are “drained, diverted, paved over.” Land and wetlands are polluted by agricultural runoff. 90% of the wading birds in Everglades National Park — gone. “Deer to turtles, are down 75– 95%.”
Pieces of the environmental conundrum are water toxicity, safe drinking water, and safe swimming water, among others. Bacteria from phosphate mining runoff, the toxic red tide in our bays and gulf. We experience water flooding streets and stopping traffic during the summer months with daily tropical downpours. What of the damage from the longer tropical storms?
The ongoing issue in Florida is water — with pesticides, chemicals, and related cocktails from industry along with the algae blooms created from runoff. All that ecologically unsound development has done a lot of damage to our water — and our coast.
Last year’s historic rains had St. Petersburg’s mayor Rick Kriseman describing “a once-in-a-century calamity” as the gushing waters made for a worst-case scenario of a water disaster in the region. Tampa Bay Times reported in August that St. Petersburg rains overwhelmed the city’s antiquated wastewater system — sending 31.5 million gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage rapidly into the waters of Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay.
Then again … in the wake of that once-in-a-century calamity came a second disaster: “9.8 million of gallons of sewage — estimated to be 30 to 50 percent untreated sewage — spilled into the bay.” Tampa Bay was not alone, as “untreated sewage also gushed from manholes in Clam Bayou, leaked into the locker room at Al Lang Stadium and befouled the basement of the Vinoy Renaissance resort.”
Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago questions the unavoidable last sewage dump, suggesting that the city did not heed the “alarm bells of 2015.” Encouraging the reader to believe that the city does indeed have options, he writes, “Eckerd’s orientation turned into a foul affair as activities scheduled on the school’s waterfront access at Frenchman’s Creek had to be rescheduled because of high levels of bacteria. Local civic associations howled in protest.”
As that once-in-a-century calamity was 10 months ago, St. Petersburg officials now respond that the recent dump was unavoidable. Tropical Storm Colin was not atypical for Florida summer months, so if it was unavoidable within 10 months between floods, what is next?
Is anything being done? Frago reports that officials say they have “not dithered” to solve the city’s sewage issues. Claiming that 10 months is just too short of a time to make a change.
“The council approved spending $3 million in BP money to fix pipes last month. Tankersley hopes that work will start by the beginning of October.”
More study is recommended, but not everyone believes more study should take place before some action. Raw sewage is a considerable public health threat — not only the case of flooding streets stopping traffic and harming cars. Council member Karl Nurse argues for more action now. Mayor Rick Kriseman believes that acting haphazardly will waste money. Kriseman points to climate change as part of the issue, “The sewer system is a symptom of a larger problem, he said. The changing climate is putting more pressure on the city’s infrastructure.”
This is Florida.
Images by Cynthia Shahan for CleanTechnica.pics