The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol has been monitoring anchored boats in Boca Ciega Bay, above, in an effort to educate boat owners about the proper way to dispose of waste and find those who may be dumping effluent into the bay.
MADEIRA BEACH – The city of Madeira Beach’s efforts to investigate alleged dumping of raw sewage into Boca Ciega Bay will continue at least for two more months.
In recent months Madeira Beach residents have raised complaints about pollutants washing onto seawalls and docks. Many point to the flotilla of boats parked off the west side of the Bay Pines VA Medical Center as the culprits but City Manager Shane Crawford said he isn’t sure that’s the case.
“We, as a city, have been monitoring it,” said Crawford, “and 10 boats dumping each day wouldn’t give you the type of readings we’ve seen. The boats can’t be the only contributing factor. It has to be more involved.”
Crawford suggested the problem could be from a broken or cracked sewer line. If that’s the case, he said, the location of the pipe and the owner of the sewer line would determine who is responsible for repairing it.
Crawford said the waterway is bounded by land owned by Pinellas County Schools, the city of Madeira Beach and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The city has contracted with the Brandon engineering firm CPWG, which is conducting monthly water samplings at seven locations from the Madeira Beach Municipal Marina south to John’s Pass.
“We haven’t come to any conclusions yet,” said Steve Tarte, senior vice president of CPWG. “We’ll be collecting through February, give the samples to a lab and give the results to the city.”
Tarte said the early results have not been alarming.
“The results we’ve seen are similar to the health department, which collects on the beach side,” Tarte said.
Tarte was referring to the Florida Healthy Beaches Program, which collects water samples and tests for bacteria levels at nine sites, including Madeira Beach, along the Pinellas County beaches every two weeks. The last samples were taken Jan. 13 and everything was good.
According to the Florida Department of Health website, the Healthy Beaches Program monitors for enterococci, which are organisms that get into the intestines of warm-blooded animals and are excreted through an animal’s waste. While enterococci do not necessarily cause illness but at high concentrations, it may indicate that there are other organisms present that could cause disease, infections, and rashes.
Based on EPA guidelines, when the tests reach high levels, a health advisory is issued by the department. Public notifications include results entered on the Healthy Beaches website and signs posted on the beach.
Health advisories are not lifted until samples collected show acceptable water quality.
While the city’s testing of Boca Ciega Bay continues, members of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol have been monitoring boaters in the area in an effort to educate and find those who are dumping effluent into the bay.
“Nobody has been physically caught dumping waste,” said John Luckett, a community deputy for Madeira Beach. “They (Marine Patrol members) are educating people on the correct way to get rid of waste and gray water.”
The correct way, Luckett said, is to have effluent pumped out at a nearby marina.
Dave Marsicano, director of central services for the city of Madeira Beach, said the city marina currently provides pump-out services for boat owners.
He said the city is pursuing a state grant that will pay for a mobile pump-out service the city hopes to implement later this year.
What amount the city would charge for this service has yet to be determined.