Sunset Manor ditch rehabilitation project, part of the overall goal to retrofit the McKay Creek stormwater system, was completed this year, fixing a ditch that was extremely difficult for Largo’s public works department to maintain.
LARGO – Asking for just a few more minutes before Largo commissioners left the workshop Oct. 8 to catch the Rays game, City Manager Mac Craig emphasized the importance of the stormwater presentation they had just heard.
“Your action on that in the future will probably be the most important thing that you do for the city of Largo,” he said. “Some day, we’re going to be drinking that stormwater.”
The city’s entire stormwater system – which is designed to carry rain and the ensuing runoff pollution off of streets and lawns and out to major bodies of water – is getting old.
“What we are seeing more and more of is localized flooding: street flooding and yard flooding. And while the localized flooding is not a risk of major public safety and property damage, it is a nuisance to our residents,” said city engineer Leland Dicus.
The problem has been compounded over the last year due to higher rainfall. But that’s not the only reason why localized flooding has increased. Much of the stormwater infrastructure was built 30 and 50 years ago, when most of the city was developed.
“It’s reaching the end of its service life,” Dicus said. “It’s not that we just need to mow a ditch, or mow a swale or clean out a driveway culvert. It’s that the culvert is crushed. And that the ditch and the swale is completely silted in, and it’s going to require major rehab to return it to good condition.”
The increasing infrastructure failures have diverted the attention of staff away from routine maintenance, such as ditch mowing schedules and preventative measures.
“We’re being pulled more and more into these urgent emergency repairs. They’re very time-consuming for in-house maintenance staff and often require long-term planning,” Dicus said.
Since 2008, urgent, unplanned repairs have cost the city $2 million. Those don’t include capital projects that have been completed. Most recently, the Sunset Manor ditch rehabilitation project, part of the overall goal to retrofit the McKay Creek stormwater system, was completed this year.
“That particular ditch was both extremely difficult for our public works crews to maintain and in some cases, extremely dangerous to even access,” said Sean VanDerGracht, the city’s stormwater administrator. “With working with our public works crews, our engineering division was able to turn it into what you see there today.”
If not addressed, localized flooding will turn into structure flooding that will cause widespread damage to city residences and businesses.
On top of the age of the infrastructure, much of it never achieved what the system needs to be now. Many of state environmental regulations and development standards were not in place before the 1980s, VanDerGracht said.
“The majority of the city was already developed at that time,” he explained.
The infrastructure needs to be upgraded not only because it’s old, but because it was never designed to clean the stormwater of pollutants that can harm Gulf waters and ecosystem.
“Stormwater runoff is public enemy No. 1,” VanDerGracht said. “The reason the stormwater runoff can be so bad for the environment … is unlike our sanitary sewer system, it’s not connected to any sort of treatment plant.”
The city plans to retrofit much of its stormwater system for water treatment as its first initiative in confronting the problem. On Jan. 1, the city completed its state-required “total maximum daily living” plan, which identifies which water bodies are exceeding pollution limits and how the city plans to clean the water that flows into it.
“Despite many of water quality improvements that the city as well as the county have implemented the past 10 years, the vast majority of the water bodies in Pinellas County are currently classified as impaired (meaning they are) not meeting one or more state water quality standards,” Dicus said.
The city is waiting for state approval of its prioritized list of water bodies that need to be addressed.
The city also is looking at developing a comprehensive stormwater infrastructure maintenance rehabilitation program. To do this, it will need to completely assess the entire system to determine the condition of different components.
“Then we can start predicting where we need to invest in replacing infrastructure,” Dicus said. “This plan that we are proposing is to identify where are these areas, what will be the cost to rehab them, when do we want to rehab them, what will that mean to our fund.”
Finally, city staff will continue to look for opportunities to tackle multiple infrastructure improvements at one time.
“A local roadway and community street infrastructure project also provides an opportunity to retrofit some of the urban stormwater treatment practices we’ve been talking about,” Dicus said.
In the coming months as city staff seeks to upgrade the entire system, commissioners will be considering raising the stormwater fee charged to residents and businesses. City staff couldn’t hazard a guess on the total cost of the rehabilitation, but Craig said, “it’s going to take millions.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do” Craig said. “The system is old, and it’s in terrible shape – we’re seeing it every day. And we can’t keep up with it.”
City commissioners will be updated on the progress of the plan at a later meeting.