Fort De Soto Park is reopening Tuesday after a three-day closure. Officials closed the park Saturday morning after a pipe break disrupted the water supply. About 1,000 residents in Tierra Verde were under a boil water notice from Saturday morning through Monday night.
TIERRA VERDE – On a typical sunny weekend, Fort De Soto Park is filled with visitors enjoying the many amenities offered by Pinellas County’s largest park system.
But that wasn’t the case the first weekend of February. Pinellas County officials closed the park Saturday morning, and it remained closed Sunday and Monday.
Just after midnight Saturday, a loss of water pressure was recorded on one of Utilities monitoring devices. Calls from the public began coming in about the same time, according to Mary Burrell, with county Communications.
A mandatory boil water order was issued, per EPA rules, for residents of southern Tierra Verde south of Madonna Boulevard and all residents living along the Pinellas Bayway, including those living off Sands Point Drive. Burrell said approximately 1,000 customers were affected.
Crews responded to the problem and finally found a break in an 8-inch pipe located next to a retention pond, aka the duck pond, located on west side of the Pinellas Bayway on Saturday night. The pipe was fixed by 3 a.m. Sunday.
Tom Iovino with county Communications said Saturday afternoon that the problem had stopped the water flow entirely to Fort De Soto Park.
“Water is not getting to the park at all,” Iovino said. “We thought it best to close it.”
All park restrooms, water fountains and campground showers were inoperative.
Burrell said it was impossible to estimate revenue lost due to the three-day closure. Fort De Soto Park welcomes approximately 2.7 million visitors each year. Using numbers from 2011 and 2012, an average of about $2,000 a day was collected in parking fees on the first weekend of February. An average of 6,595 people visited the park on those days in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
All 216 campsites were occupied when officials decided to close the park due to lack of water, Burrell said. Staff worked with the campers already at the park, allowing them to stay. Drinking water was provided as needed. By Sunday, 160 campsites were still occupied and 163 were in use on Monday.
“It is not known whether the campers left due to the water problem or if they had only planned to stay one night,” Burrell said.
The county put up a variable message sign on Madonna Boulevard, which is located before the park entrance, to notify park visitors. However, some people were still determined to gain entrance to the park, especially those who had driven from out of the area.
Burrell said park rangers used their own discretion to let some in, including boaters. All were cautioned not to drink the water. She said all water fountains had been covered to deter their use.
“They tried to be as flexible as they could,” she said.
A boil water order remained in effect through Monday evening as officials waited for results of tests. Meanwhile, all tap water used for drinking, cooking, making ice, brushing teeth, or washing dishes had to be brought to a rolling boil for one to three minutes, or residents could use bottled water as an alternative.
Burrell explained that the EPA required that results of water tests taken on two consecutive days come back clean before the boil order could be lifted. Anytime water pressure drops below a certain level, the possibility exists for contamination.
Microbes, if present in the water, can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, some of the elderly and people with severely compromised immune systems. People with specific health concerns should consult a doctor.
Iovino said Monday evening that the first test had come back clear. Around 9 p.m., he sent out a press release announcing that the second test also had passed muster. The boil water notice was lifted. Fort De Soto Park reopened Tuesday morning.
"Pinellas County's Department of Environment and Infrastructure thanks all of our customers for their cooperation during this event," the press release said.