Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership initiatives making headway

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice moderates a question and answer session at Thursday’s Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership Meeting.

County, city and agency partners that make up the Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership met May 23 to present updates regarding the progress and outcomes of projects to improve the resilience of the county’s wastewater and stormwater systems.

The partnership’s Technical Working Group — a body comprised of utilities and stormwater professionals across the 24 municipalities and Pinellas County Government — reported on key findings that will help keep stormwater from inundating the wastewater system during heavy rain events, causing sanitary sewer overflows.

In addition, the group reported about the progress of legislative initiatives and public outreach efforts to encourage and assist the public in understanding their role and responsibility in the prevention of conditions that lead to sanitary sewer overflows.

This year, $240 million in wastewater capital improvement projects have been budgeted across the county, along with $42 million in stormwater capital improvement projects.

The technical working group reported on countywide studies examining the flow of stormwater entering the wastewater system. Because of these studies and ongoing planned work, more than 150 miles of gravity sewer pipe has been replaced within the last fiscal year.

The work done decreases the inflow and infiltration of stormwater into the wastewater system. The study results will also aid in prioritizing projects to repair, line and replace pipes and other damaged and aging infrastructure in the future.

In addition to mitigating damaged infrastructure, the group detailed stormwater drainage projects to benefit wastewater system function, especially during heavy rain events. Data from recent studies showed that flooding durations and depths correlated to stormwater entering the wastewater system in areas containing wastewater structures, like manholes and sewer pump stations.

Projects identified from the analysis will be prioritized according to the most beneficial in keeping the largest volume of stormwater out of the system.

The group is also continuing to evaluate and move forward effective legislative solutions to tackle the stormwater and groundwater inflow and infiltration issues where agency-provided solutions are not applicable, such as damaged and aging private connecting sewer lines that allow the infiltration of groundwater into the wastewater system. Among these options are a variety of options that allow for inspections and corrective repair of defective privately owned sewer lines.

Partners continue to conduct public outreach about individual actions to decrease negative impacts to the wastewater system, encouraging citizens to “throw it in the trash, don’t flush it.” This means avoiding:

• Putting fats, oils and grease down the drain.

• Flushing personal wipes and other non-flushables in the sewer system, including wipes that claim to be flushable.

• Unnecessary water use during heavy rain events.

In addition, the partnership debuted a branded social media campaign and video to help the public understand that their toilet is not a trash can, and that flushing non-flushable items into the system can cause wastewater backups into homes and neighborhoods.

For more information about the Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership, visit www.pinellascounty.org/taskforce.