About 140,000 gallons of ‘highly treated reclaimed water’ spilled on 10thStreet in Sarasota, near Van Wezel

Broken pipeline blamed for incident

This map shows the location of the spill. Image courtesy FDEP

On the morning of Sept. 21, approximately 140,000 gallons of “highly treated reclaimed water” spilled at the site of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary building near the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the City of Sarasota Utilities Department reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

About 8 a.m. that day, the report says, city staff was alerted to the incident. Staff found a break in a 6-inch reclaimed water line located at 1101 10th St., the FDEP report said.

“The pipe has been repaired,” the report added.

The situation was resolved by 9 a.m. on Sept. 21, the report said.

The city operates an Advanced Wastewater Treatment facility. Sarasota County staff has pointed out to the county commissioners that that such a system dramatically lowers the levels of harmful nutrients in the water. Thus, far less nitrogen, for example — which is one of the primary foods for the red tide algae Karenia brevis — remains in the reclaimed water.

This May 8, 2019 graphic provided to the Sarasota County Commission shows details about the nitrogen loads from wastewater treatment plants in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Visit Sarasota County, the community tourism office, notes on its website that Waterfront Park, which is home to the Coast Guard Auxiliary building, “is the perfect spot to watch the sunset!” The park is owned and operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation District, the website adds.

This is the Coast Guard Auxiliary building standing at 1101 10th St. Image from Google Maps

In related news, during their Sept. 20 meeting, the Sarasota city commissioners unanimously approved the refinancing of a water and sewer bond series issued in 2011.

In response to questioning by Mayor Hagen Brody, city Finance Director Kelly Strickland explained that the action would save the city more than $1.2 million.

The staff memo regarding the agenda item, included in the packet for the meeting, put the total at approximately $1,239,220. That memo pointed out that the refinancing was a recommendation of Dunlap & Associates of Orlando, which serves as the city’s financial adviser.

The principal outstanding on the 2011 bond is about $10,135,000, the staff memo noted; the maturity date is Oct. 1, 2028.

Brody said he just wanted to be certain the requested action would not bind the commission — or future members of the commission — to rate increases.

“As long as we can pay the principal and interest,” Strickland replied. The principal would remain the same after the refinancing, she added.

In July 19, the City Commission approved a 3.5% rate increase for city utility customers that took effect on Sept. 1 of that year and will continue through 2030. The funds will help pay for approximately $298.5 million in upgrades to the city’s water and wastewater systems, Utilities Director Bill Riebe explained at the time.

A chart shows the changes in monthly utility bills over the next decade for City of Sarasota customers, as presented to the City Commission in July 2019. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The list of 135 projects identified through an in-depth staff analysis, Riebe said, did not include “any fluff.” He told the commissioners that if the city did not undertake the projects, “There’s going to be pipe failures; there’s going to be sewage on the ground; there’s going to be water [line] breaks; there’s going to be continued poor water quality in terms of taste and odor” and regulatory issues with which to contend.

Brody joined then-Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie in protesting the rate increases. Brody said he supported “revamping our water and wastewater systems,” but he felt budget cuts should have been sought to help pay for the initiatives, along with grant funds.

Riebe assured Brody that staff was pursuing every possible grant.