Rupture of reclaimed water line results in spill of about 170,500 gallons at 17th Street site in Sarasota

A day earlier, a 40,000-gallon storage pond spill occurred in Venice Gardens Water Reclamation Facility service area, but none of that effluent reached surface waters

This graphic shows the location of the Feb. 18 spill. Image courtesy FDEP

The rupture of a 3-inch reclaimed water line resulted in about 170,500 gallons of reclaimed water spilling onto the grassy area of Sarasota County’s former Meadowood treatment plant in Sarasota, county staff reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on Feb. 19.

The incident occurred at 4860 17th St., the report noted.

Only about 25,000 gallons of the reclaimed water was recovered, the report said. Approximately 30,000 gallons entered a surface water canal that travels 2.5 miles to the Phillippi Creek basin, the report added.

The spill was in the service area of the county’s Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) a, the report said. The incident was discovered at 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 18 and stopped at 10 a.m. that day, the report noted.

“The reclaimed line was isolated and will be scheduled for further evaluation and repair,” the report said.

Surface water sampling was underway, the report added. “Clean up and notifications are proceeding per protocol,” it noted.

Concern has been raised about the impact of the nitrogen load from spills related to the county’s aging infrastructure, as researchers have pointed to nitrogen as the primary feeder for the red tide algae.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for comment late last summer, Justin Bloom, an attorney specializing in environmental law and the founder of the nonprofit Suncoast Waterkeeper, wrote, “Monitoring reports show very high levels of Nitrogen in the effluent which makes its way via Phillippi Creek into Sarasota Bay, which has alarmingly high levels of Nitrogen which fuel Red Tide and other harmful algae blooms.”

County Public Utilities staff members have explained that the reclaimed water has undergone treatment; however, the resulting water quality is not comparable to that of drinking water.

As a result of county staff’s recommendation, the County Commission on Jan. 14 approved a nearly $4-million, five-year agreement with Hazen and Sawyer of New York to work with staff on a Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) initiation program.

Mike Mylett. File photo

A Jan. 14 county staff memo, provided to the commission in advance of the meeting, said the Public Utilities Department “maintains and operates approximately 760 miles of gravity sewer lines, 17,800 manholes, 700 lift stations [for its sewer system] and nine vacuum pump stations that discharge into three primary Water Reclamation Facilities (WRFs): Bee Ridge WRF, Central County WRF, and Venice Gardens WRF. To maintain its wastewater collection system and minimize the potential of sanitary sewer overflows,” the memo continues, “Sarasota County has been developing and implementing a [CMOM] program for several years.”

The memo further explained, “CMOM programs help utilities optimize the use of staffing and material resources by shifting maintenance activities from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive,’” which leads to “operational efficiencies, lower risk and cost savings by reducing emergency construction and response costs.” Further, the memo continues, “CMOM program information and documentation improve communications within all parts of the organization, stakeholders, the public, other municipal works andregulators.”

“There’s a lot of infrastructure out there,” county Public Utilities Director Mike Mylett told the commissioners on Jan. 14, adding that much of it is aging. “And that causes problems with maintenance.”
The board’s approval of the agreement, he said, would “help set us up for the future.”

Just a day before the Meadowood spill, county staff reported a Feb. 17 incident involving the service area of its Venice Gardens WRF. The county’s report to FDEP regarding that situation said that crews responded to a call from the Plantation Golf and Country Club grounds maintenance staff about reclaimed water overflowing from the storage pond located at 921 Woodbridge Drive in Venice.

This is the location of the spill in Venice. Image courtesy FDEP

An estimated 40,000 gallons spilled over the pond’s berm into a swale surrounding the pond, the report added. Approximately 36,000 gallons of reclaimed water was recovered from that swale, the report noted. None of the reclaimed water “reached surface waters,” the report said, so no water sampling was necessary from a public health standpoint.

The initial investigation into that incident “revealed that the automatic valve for the reclaimed water storage pond had malfunctioned,” the report noted. “The isolation valve was shut off to stop the spill.”

That spill was reported at 9 a.m., the report added; the incident ended at 11 a.m. on Feb. 17.