About 36,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into Grand Canal on Siesta Key as result of problem with Lockwood Ridge sewer station

Approximately 14,700 gallons recovered

An April 2016 engineering drawing shows the plans for transforming the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant into a master pump station. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Approximately 36,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into the Grand Canal from Siesta Key’s master pump station on July 9, the county has reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

The incident was a result of a failure at Sarasota County’s Lockwood Ridge Road booster station, the FDEP report explained.

County staff manually opened a valve at the Lockwood Ridge facility to divert some of the flow of effluent to the north, which eased the pressure in the sewer force main from Siesta Key, the report said. Then the flow increased from the Siesta master pump station, the report added, which stopped the spill.

The incident occurred about 5:30 p.m. on July 9, the county report added.

About 14,700 gallons of the wastewater was recovered from the canal, the report noted. Samples were taken, the report said, and lime was distributed in the immediate vicinity of the spill as a mitigation measure.

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, told The Sarasota News Leader that the recovery effort focused on the swales around the master pump station. Residents had not reported any odor issues, she added.

The National Lime Association explains that treatment with lime helps limit the growth of pathogens in wastewater.

An aerial view shows the master pump station surrounded by homes. Image from Google Maps

The Siesta facility is adjacent to the Siesta Isles neighborhood.

On the afternoon of July 10, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County issued the following advisory:

“People in the area are urged to take precautions when in contact with the waters of Grand Canal. Sarasota County Utilities will be conducting water testing in [the] Grand Canal at locations upstream and downstream of the spill location. Water testing will continue until bacteria levels return to normal.

“Water contaminated with wastewater overflow presents several health risks to humans. Untreated human sewage with microbes could cause gastrointestinal issues and other conditions. Anyone who comes into contact with Grand Canal should wash thoroughly, especially before eating or drinking. Children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems, are particularly vulnerable to disease so every precaution should be taken if in contact with the waters of Grand Canal.”

The Health Department advisory added that anyone seeking more information about the potential health effects of wastewater overflow should contact the department at 861-6133.

On July 10, County Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant provided the News Leader with a formal county statement about the incident: “The material spilled was untreated wastewater. The treatment facility on Siesta Key is de-commissioned and is no longer in service and will be demolished in the future.”

In the late summer of 2016, well before the plant’s decommissioning, county staff reported a discharge of 3.3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Grand Canal. That discharge, which began on Aug. 31 and continued to Sept. 5, 2016, was necessary to prevent raw sewage from spilling over the tanks in the plant, county staff reported at that time to FDEP. The discharge into the Grand Canal came in response to Hurricane Hermine’s passage along the west coast of Florida. The storm’s heavy rains were leading to considerable flooding in the area, so county staff was encouraging the public via Twitter to try to reduce the amount of water flowing into the county sewer system, to prevent sewage spills.

In early 2018, county staff completed its years-long project to transform what had been the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant into the master pump station, which sends effluent off the island for treatment. If Hurricane Irma had not struck the state in September 2017, the project probably would have been completed before the end of 2017, Robert Luckner, a member of the Siesta Key Association’s Environmental Committee, told the nonprofit’s members in January 2018.

Prior to the Siesta plant’s decommissioning, the county was operating it under a Consent Order with FDEP. That order officially called for the cessation of wastewater treatment at the facility before the end of June 2018.

The project to transform the plant into a master pump station began around 2011, county staff explained to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members in April 2016.

A county graphic shows the segments of the project that led to the decommissioning of the Siesta Wastewater Treatment Plant. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Originally, staff planned on finishing up the work at the Siesta site in late 2016. However, that timeline was pushed back about a year by county staff’s decision to change the path of new sewer and water lines going under the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), Gregory Rouse, the county engineering design manager in charge of the project, told the SKA members.

The new 20-inch sewer force main, which replaced a 14-inch pipeline, was necessary to transfer wastewater from the barrier island to the Central County Water Reclamation Facility and the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility on the mainland.

The watermain was designed to “provide increased pressure to users at the north end of Siesta Key,” according to an April 26, 2016 staff memo.