Statewide sewage problems prompt DEP investigation

Image 1 of 3

This year's hurricane season has had sewage systems overflowing across Florida.

We've learned that several cities had to release untreated sewage when Hurricane Matthew hit last week. It’s the same problem that plagued parts of Tampa Bay during Hurricane Hermine.

Now, Governor Rick Scott is ordering the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to find out how to prevent these spills in the future, because it seems the problem is more widespread than first thought.

St. Petersburg, in particular, has taken a lashing from environmental groups for dumping sewage into the Bay. It's one of the reasons Governor Scott started a new transparency rule for pollution, requiring utilities to notify the public 24-hours after any spill. That policy is shining a light on which cities have taken the same emergency steps.

When news of the dumps first came out after Hermine, residents protested and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against St. Pete under the Federal Clean Water Act. Then Hurricane Matthew put cities - and the new rule - to the test.

Last Tuesday, Bradenton and Palmetto cited heavy rain as the reason for dumping nearly 1,500 gallons of raw sewage from treatment plants. Vero Beach, Daytona Beach and Arcadia also issued notifications.

In Duval County, a loss of power at seven facilities is what officials say led to millions of gallons of sewage being released. It's a practice that worries environmentalists like Jim Gross.

"The problem is, you can't technically see it or smell it, but you might be exposed to dangerous levels of bacteria or viruses," Gross explained.

On Wednesday, Governor Scott announced he's pushing the Department of Environment Protection to evaluate each overflow and work with each utility to find solutions. Environmentalists just hope this won't be a temporary bandage on a much bigger problem in Florida.

"We're really in need of paying attention to some long-term systemic problems with Florida's plumbing systems, surface water, particularly the Everglades," Gross continued.

Meanwhile, the DEP database of waste water spills is growing every day. Just this week, the city of Palm Coast released about 3,000 gallons of wastewater due to a power loss after Matthew.

The good news is, under the governor's new guidelines, tracking each of these spills will be easier than ever for concerned residents.