Since Aug. 10, two capital projects designed to reduce sanitary sewer overflows have been fully operational. The new 5 million-gallon equalization tank will be used in conjunction with the Wet Weather project and will be used to temporarily store excess flows to the plant during heavy rain.
LARGO – Tampa Bay is nearly halfway through the storm season and Largo residents may have noticed something different this year. The sewer overflows that have plagued the city for the past decade are much less frequent, and, according to city officials, there’s a reason for that.
Since Aug. 10, two capital projects designed to reduce the overflows are fully operational, and officials say the years of hard work are already paying off.
“So far it’s been night and day,” said Gary Jones-Glascock, manager of the wastewater reclamation facility.
Environmental Services Director Irvin Kety acknowledges there have still been some overflows, but they haven’t been caused by the capacity of the pipes, which has been the problem in years past.
“We haven’t had any of those this year, which is a big, big advancement,” he said.
Instead, Kety said a lightning strike at a lift station caused some while others were caused by a problem with the new communications technology at lift stations. He said city staff are currently working to resolve the issue.
And while there haven’t been any major storms, such as Tropical Storm Hermine that caused more than 24 million gallons of overflow in Largo last year, Kety said he’s still encouraged and not as concerned if a big storm rolls through.
“Where we were having the really big overflows last year and the year before, let’s call it the regular places, those have not occurred,” he said. “Now, we haven’t had a big tropical storm come through and I don’t want to come through, but if one comes through, that will give us a chance to really test it. So if we could get one that doesn’t hurt anybody, that would be great.”
In 2006, the city entered into a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to reduce the amount of sewage it was discharging into local waterways and to cut down on the number of sanitary sewer overflows by Jan. 31, 2018.
As a result, the city has spent more than $83 million on three projects designed to meet the state requirement of handling a 10-year storm, which is defined as 7.5 inches within 24 hours.
• The Wet Weather Project, which has been partially online since July and is now fully operational, is a $44.2 million sanitary sewer expansion that will help get water and sewage to the treatment plant faster. It runs from the Intracoastal Waterway to Tampa Bay and consists of at least 14 miles of pipeline and seven new lift stations that lead to the wastewater reclamation facility.
• The $25 million headworks project, which includes a 5 million-gallon holding tank at the plant, is also online.
“When we have high flows, we can divert the flow into that 5 million-gallon tank, and when we have low flows, we can move water out of that tank and back into the treatment plant for proper treatment,” Kety said.
Part of the project includes upgrading treatment equipment for the screening process, where plastic and other materials that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet are filtered out.
Kety said the system is operational but not quite finished because the older system still has to be decommissioned.
• The disinfection and influent pumping project, which includes upgrades to the pumping system and aims to ensure treated sewage effluent meets water quality standards, is partially online but is running late because of engineering and construction delays, Kety said.
“If we were to get a big storm now, we could fully disinfect the water and we can fully pump the water out of the plant and get the water into the plant,” he said.
Kety said he is scheduled to meet with FDEP officials to discuss the project soon, but he thinks it should still be finished by the consent order’s Jan. 31 deadline.
“We are making good progress,” he said. “We should be able to meet the Jan. 31 deadline unless some unforeseen thing happens.”
Even if it’s not fully completed, he said the project should still meet the state’s standards.
Kety also serves on Pinellas County’s Wastewater/Stormwater Technical Working Group, which was formed in 2016 and brings together state, county and municipal officials to identify wastewater and stormwater solutions.
“We’re ahead of everybody on really big projects, but there’s a lot of small projects that need to be done in order to help resolve this,” he said.
One of those efforts include a project to identify overflow hot spots that were made evident by Hermine. Commissioners approved a $1.14 million contract to a consultant Aug. 15 to help evaluate four sanitary collection system areas and assess 187,500 linear feet of gravity sewer lines and about 760 manholes.
The areas include the intersection of Wilcox and Indian Rocks roads, St. Paul’s Drive and Arvis Circle, and 20th Street and West Bay Drive.
“Those are going to be addressed immediately,” he said. “They are a high priority.”
Kety said the city also would be seeking an alternative site to discharge treated effluent from the wastewater plant.
“For the wastewater reclamation facility in the past and today, we discharge our effluent through a pipeline that goes from the wastewater facility to Feather Sound and then into Tampa Bay,” he said. “That’s it. If we need anything more, it just overflows.”
He said staff are going to have an engineering firm do an evaluation and get it permitted.
While the three capital projects will be the biggest help, Kety said getting them online is just the start. The biggest challenge now will be learning the nuances of the new technology.
“I know my staff is as frustrated as anybody in the public that we’re still working on getting this tuned up,” he said. “But, unfortunately, with $80 million in construction, there’s going to be a lot of tuning. That’s just part of what it takes to get it to work right. My goal is to get us there as fast as we can.”