1 million-plus gallons of sewage leaks into Hillsborough River

March 23rd, 2011 by Staff

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2011/mar/21/211811/1-million-plus-gallons-of-sewage-leaks-into-hillsb/news-breaking/ — People are still being warned not to swim, wade or fish in much of the upper Hillsborough River after a pair of sewer line breaks last week vented at least 1 million gallons of sewage into the waterway.

The city of Tampa is taking samples from the river to see when pollution levels drop to a safe level; in the meantime, warning signs remain at Trout Creek Park boat ramps alerting people of the potential health risk.

The main leak started on Tuesday when crews working to widen Bruce B. Downs Boulevard appear to have nicked an 18-inch sewer line with a boring drill near the intersection of Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs.

The second, smaller leak happened near Trout Creek the next day when a problem occurred in a 24-inch pipe as workers were trying to divert flow from the first broken line. The lines take sewage from New Tampa to the city’s treatment plant at Hookers Point.

The leaks were fixed by early Thursday afternoon, said Ralph Metcalf, director of the city’s sewer department.

The million gallons is an estimate of the least amount of sewage that spilled near the park and Trout Creek, with most eventually making its way into the river. The total spill could be more than a million gallons, Metcalf said.

A state Department of Environmental Protection report estimated one leak was pouring 400 to 500 gallons a minute the day after it occurred.

Water samples taken last week by city workers at Trout Creek showed bacteria levels 12 times what the state permits for fishing or wading.

In samples from a mile downstream, about where the bicycle path at Flatwoods Park crosses Trout Creek, the bacteria counts were 2,500 times the acceptable state level.

The first sample showed 9,600 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. The downstream sample had 2 million colonies, Metcalf said.

The state standard for wading, fishing or boating is below 800 colonies per 100 milliliters.

Most sewer spills come from overflowing lift stations and are less than 10,000 gallons, said Paula Noblitt, county Environmental Protection Commission manager.

“A million gallons is a very large spill,” she said.

The sewage will be diluted as it moves downstream. More than 3 million gallons of water flow through the Hillsborough River each minute.

The city added chlorine to the river after the spills and sunlight also will help kill bacteria, Metcalf said.

The spills haven’t forced the county to close Trout Creek Park or ban people from launching canoes in the river, said Kemly Green, a county spokeswoman.

“The signs were put up as a precaution. We’re not stopping people from accessing the river,” she said.

A city report on the breaks is expected Friday, Noblitt said.

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