More than 100,000 gallons of raw sewage spills from Sarasota County facilities during ‘Invest 90L’ event on June 11

County staff reports wastewater treatment system was overwhelmed

This is the image that county staff included on its Facebook page in regard to the sewage spills reported last week.

On Thursday, June 13, in what was characterized as an initial report to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the Sarasota County Public Utilities Department staff said that more than 100,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled as the county’s infrastructure was overwhelmed by the June 11 rainfall associated with the tropical system Invest 90L.

On June 17, staff also noted the spills on the county’s Facebook page.

In the FDEP report, staff pointed out that the “Rain Event” began at 6:45 p.m. on June 11 and did not end until 11 p.m. that day.

“Due to the high amount of rain,” the county report explained, “we had a lot of demand placed on our collection system.”
Staff then provided FDEP a summary of the sewage spills.

The Weather Channel reported that Siesta Key received nearly 11.5 inches of rain on June 11, while a county rain gauge on Bee Ridge Road recorded close to 8.6 inches.

Some  of the sewage spills still were being evaluated, the county report to FDEP added, as staff worked to ascertain the amount of effluent lost and whether sampling of any affected water bodies would be required.

Nonetheless, the writer of the report continued, “I wanted to update you on where we are. From an operational standpoint, we did reasonably well.”

Public Utilities staff member Kyle Proctor submitted the details to FDEP, the report showed; he was identified as a facility operator.

Among the details in the FDEP report, it explained that the county’s largest wastewater treatment plant, the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility (WRF), “typically treats “around 7 million gallons a day (MGD); [on June 11], we saw flows of around 20 MGD …”

This is an aerial view of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility on Lorraine Road in Sarasota, with construction work underway in February. Image courtesy Sarasota County Government via Facebook

The Central County WRF, which stands on Palmer Ranch, averages 6 mgd, the report continued. “[T]hat facility saw 14 MGD.”

“Our Venice [Gardens] WRF saw typical demands,” the report added.

The county Facebook post provided more details.

“On Tuesday night [June 11],” the post said, “Sarasota County Public Utilities’ Wastewater Reclamation Facilities received three times their usual flow due to impacts from the extreme rain conditions. Our Public Utilities team worked around the clock to keep utilities operational during the declared Local State of Emergency and to quickly address and mitigate spills that occurred.”
Then it noted, “The following spills were reported”:

  • “Riverview Lift Station: Approximately 6,000 gallons were spilled.” The FDEP report pointed out that that situation was discovered at 8:45 p.m.; it ceased around 11 p.m.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for details about the address of that station, the county’s Public Utilities team explained in a June 19 email that the location is on Proctor Road. “The official address is 2 Ram Way, Sarasota,” the email added. The lift station stands behind Riverview High School, the email noted, with its driveway on Proctor Road.

Riverview High School is adjacent to Phillippi Creek.

  • Linwood Lift Station — Approximately 30,000 gallons were spilled, with none of the effluent recovered. The FDEP report said that workers also found that situation at 8:45 p.m., and the spill ceased “@ 11:00 PM.” Linwood Street is east of McIntosh Road and west of Phillippi Creek, in the Sarasota Springs area of the county, a map shows.
  • Sam’s Seltzer’s Lift Station — “Staff discovered a blockage leading into a wet well. Approximately 5,000 gallons were spilled and 1,500 were recovered,” the Facebook post said. The lift station name references a restaurant that operated for years at 7113 S. Tamiami Trail, close to the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
  • 7208 Pine Needle Road, which is on south Siesta Key — Staff discovered an overflowing manhole at this location. Approximately 73,200 gallons were spilled, the Facebook post noted. The FDEP report added, “Discovered @ 9:30 AM, ongoing as of 4:00 PM, collection system overwhelmed.”
  • 840 Edgemere Lane, which also is on Siesta Key — Staff discovered a failed air release valve (ARV). Approximately 3,600 gallons were spilled. The FDEP report said that staff was able to repair the ARV. Water samples were taken at that site, as well, the FDEP report pointed out.
  • The red balloon on this aerial map shows the location of 840 Edgemere Lane on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

As Crane Engineering explains, “Air release valves are installed at the highest points in a pipeline where air naturally collects. Air bubbles enter the valve and displace the liquid inside, lowering the liquid level. When the level drops to where it no longer buoys the float, the float drops. This motion pulls the seat away from the orifice, triggering the valve to open and vent the accumulated air into the atmosphere. As the air is vented, liquid re-enters the valve, once again buoying the float, lifting it until the seat presses against the orifice, closing the valve. This cycle automatically repeats as often as necessary to maintain an air-free system.”

As a result of a 2019 Consent Order that the County Commission approved with FDEP, which resulted from the spills of millions of gallons of reclaimed water from a storage pond on the Lorraine Road Bee Ridge WRF site, as well as raw sewage spills, plus other county incidents, county staff is obligated to report to FDEP any incidents such those above.

You have a job to do and you are failing’

The News Leader found a number of angry responses to the county’s Facebook post about the lift station incidents. The following were among them:

  • “This is complete BS. You have a job to do and you are failing. Stop building [structures] we don’t need and focus on fixing this problem to include the expectation of severe weather…unacceptable. On Election Day send these posers packing.”
  • “The stormwater drains are all blocked from debris. Start cleaning them out before the hurricanes start. It will be much worse than last [week’s] storm. Stop building and replace and repair infrastructure.”
  • “Keep allowing the developers to over build! These commissioners will go down in history as having personally ruined Sarasota County. Remember their names.”
  • “Keep approving housing developments!”
  • “STOP BUILDING!!!!!!!!!!”
  • “Disgustin! Stop the building permits!”

In conjunction with approval of the 2019 Consent Order with FDEP, the county commissioners have approved significant improvements to the county’s wastewater treatment plants and infrastructure associated with them. In late August 2022, then-Public Utilities Department Director Mike Mylett told the board members that the plans to upgrade the Bee Ridge, Central County and Venice Gardens water reclamation facilities to Advanced Wastewater Treatment Status, along with increasing the capacity of each by 50%, was estimated to cost as much as $750 million.

The work at the Bee Ridge facility is underway, with the Venice Gardens project to follow, staff has reported.

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