St. Pete warns of contaminated water after sewage dump

Evan Lambert reports

- The City of St. Petersburg is asking people not to swim at one beach because of elevated levels of bacteria associated with a dump of more than 20 million gallons of wastewater.

The city dumped the mixture of rainwater and sewage in Tampa and Boca Ciega Bays until Friday. It began the discharge just before Hurricane Hermine moved over Florida last week and says it had no choice because the city's aging sewer system couldn't handle the extra water.

At Lassing Park Beach, officials put up signs warning people not to swim or fish in the water, which has raised levels of fecal coliform. Several canals and creeks in the city also have bacteria levels above safe levels.

Eckerd College marine science professor David Hastings said those bacteria levels could be dangerous if ingested.

"When we eat something we digest it. It goes out into the sewer and those fecal coliform come from our gut and that's a good indicator for hazardous bacteria, bacteria that are going to make us sick," said Hastings.

Some county residents took issue with the city signs, saying they weren't well placed at Lassing Park Beach.

"They're fishing here. I've gotten people out of the water that have children and dogs, kayakers," said Barbara Homan.

Clearwater and Tampa also spilled tens of millions of gallons of wastewater into the bay, at 30 and just more than one million gallons, respectively.

Florida's legislative delegation from Pinellas Count plans a meeting on Sept. 20 to address the county's aging sewer systems and come up with a solution to prevent future overflows.

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