According to public records pulled from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, four Tampa Bay counties – including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee – have dumped an estimated 389,000 gallons of sewage, of which 215,000 gallons were cleaned up, and 174,000 gallons were simply absorbed by the local environment.
For some perspective, last year these same four counties spilled a total of 59,560 gallons of sewage, and 39,596 gallons of that was lost.
These numbers come from a variety of sewage spills, which can occur in a number of ways – like malfunctioning lift stations, obstructed pipes, or aging infrastructure. It’s also important to note that these figures represent both public and private facilities, and also only show reported "sewage" spills to the FDEP, and not things like spilled wastewater, which is also very common and also very bad (ask St. Pete).
But so far, the worst offender in 2019 is easily Pasco County, which is already responsible for an estimated 343,600 gallons of spilled sewage. According to records, 156,000 gallons have been cleaned up, and 187,600 gallons were spilled into local waterways.
The majority of this came from one staggering spill on May 4, at a New Port Richey wastewater plant, where 300,000 gallons of untreated sewage leaked onto land and into the nearby Cross Bayou. Only half that was reportedly cleaned up.
But even if you remove this one massive spill from the total, Pasco County would still have more spilled sewage than all four Tampa Bay counties combined this year.
Pinellas County, which dumped nearly 200 millions of gallons of waste into the Bay just three years ago, has also had a pretty terrible year, adding 11,700 gallons of spilled sewage, and cleaning up roughly 2,214 gallons.
Records show that four of Pinellas County's worst spills in 2019 have come from the same two locations, a city wastewater collection system on Belcher Road, and another on Lees Court. These two systems have dumped an estimated 27,000 gallons of combined sewage.
The least sewage-afflicted Tampa Bay counties in 2019 have been Hillsborough and Manatee, who have spilled an estimated 2,500 gallons of sewage total.
While sewage doesn’t directly cause toxic algae, authorities agree that it fuels the problem, and malfunctioning pump stations and wastewater treatment plants don’t shoulder all of the blame. Currently there’s an estimated 2.6 million septic tanks in Florida, and only 1% of those are inspected for leaks, thanks to former Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Charlie Dean, who repealed those regulations back in 2012.
"In my opinion, septic tanks are a major contributor," said Dean, who expressed regret for this terrible decision to the Tampa Bay Times. "If we repealed the wrong thing, then yes, it’s our fault."
Well, toxic algae is nothing new for Florida, but things have gotten significantly worse.
2018 will most definitely go down as one of the worst years for algae blooms in over a decade, and so far this year things are already ramping back up.
In the past month, 21 Gulf Coast beaches in Mississippi were closed due to blue-green algae. At the same time, the FDEP tested 108 bodies of water across Florida, and found that 44 percent had algal blooms, reports the Miami New Times.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced renewed funding for Florida's "Red Tide Task Force" to the tune of $4.8 million. “One of the things that I’ve certainly been concerned about is whether these nutrients being pushed in from Lake Okeechobee into the freshwater exacerbated the red tide, said DeSantis at a press gathering. “Some people think so. I don’t think we know definitively.”Stay on top of Orlando news and views. Sign up for our weekly Headlines newsletter.