St. Pete faces heavy cost to deal with old water pipes

The city of St. Petersburg is facing some extraordinarily big plumbing bills to patch up weaknesses exposed by heavy summer rains to the sanitary sewer system. 

A map showing work required this year, within two years and within five years carries a $44 million price tag. The city has budgeted less than half that amount. 

"We've got to find essentially $25 million," city councilman Karl Nurse told FOX 13 News. "At some point we're going to have to acknowledge that we have pipes that average 75 years old, that we've got decades of deferred maintenance."

St. Petersburg is by no means alone. Tampa, Largo, Gulfport and others have the same issue with aging sewer pipes. When the ground becomes saturated by extended periods of rain, water infiltrates into cracked pipes, increasing the load on treatment plants. 

State records show Tampa, Largo and St. Petersburg all deliberately discharged partially treated or, in some cases, untreated sewage into natural waterways. 

"The solution to dumping raw sewage is not to have 600 miles of pipes that when it rains, the rain pours into the pipes, then you have to open the spigot," Nurse said.

His comments went unchallenged by St. Petersburg's administration, which did not respond to requests for more information. That did not surprise the councilman. 

"I have shared with you all of the information that I have" he told FOX 13 News. "Most of which was begrudgingly given to me." 

Nurse said the entire plumbing bill, beyond the most critically needed repairs and replacements, could be $350 million. The city council has a meeting scheduled later this month to discuss the scope of the challenge and ways to pay for it.