Sewage dumping may be causing bird deaths

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Dead birds are washing ashore on Bay Area beaches and scientists say it could be a result of what's in the water.

Beth Forys is an environmental scientist with Eckerd College. She thinks the dead birds are a result of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay and pouring into roadways during and after Hurricane Hermine.

"These birds, in particular, kind of skim over the water with their lower bill," Forys said. "We've observed them skim over what looked like sewage."

The dead birds are being bagged and studied by researchers with Florida Fish and Wildlife.

"The first bird I brought in had salmonella in it's heart and in it's brain. Salmonella is associated with sewage dumps," Forys said.

Scientists are now calling for cities like St. Petersburg to stop dumping during storms, but Benjamin Kirby, St. Petersburg's communications director said the city often has no choice.

"Pump the diluted waste water into the Bay, or have raw sewage back up into people's homes," Kirby said.

The City of St. Petersburg said it tested what it dumped into the bay and 100-percent of fecal bacteria was removed. At least eight other utilities, however, were dumping wastewater during the storm, including Clearwater and Tampa. Some of those dumps included raw sewage.

Kirby said fixing St. Pete's failing sewer infrastructure is at the top of Mayor Rick Kriseman's list, with $58 million set aside in next year's budget to try and fix the problem.

"I think the mayor would tell you this is one of the top priorities right now, if not the top priority, right now," Kirby said.