Florida Facing Mass Sewage Problems After Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma is continuing to wreak havoc in Florida. Residents of Brevard County are dealing with an awful stench due to the 20 million gallons of raw sewage that were channeled into the ANchor Drive Canal near their homes. The canal flows to the Banana River and the Indian River Lagoon, which is worth $7.6 billion annually to the regional economy.

“How is that all right to turn my backyard into a cesspool and not even tell me about it, because they don’t want to have sewage backup in other peoples’ homes?” asked Scott Hoffman, Brevard County resident.

County officials defended their actions by saying it was either release the sewage into the lagoon or allow it to back up into homes. With one-quarter of homes in the U.S. using a septic system, county officials are now saying they’re determined to strengthen the sewerage infrastructure in order to prevent large-scale discharges.

Officials say that Irma caught the county in the midst of their plan to put $134 million in fixes to old pipes and other sewage infrastructure.

For years, Brevard held off on raising sewer rates to meet its sewerage infrastructure needs in order to keep taxes low. The rates were at about 25% below the state average. The $134 million plan increased rates by 20% in five years to be able to support the bond needed to fund the mass sewage upgrades.

After Irma, the county took three actions to help accelerate the process of upgrading the sewage system:

  • Approving an emergency task order of $371,532 with HDR Inc. for engineering and construction assistance services
  • Authorizing county officials to seek a $10 million loan for the Florida State Revolving Fund to be able to actually replace the piping
  • Approving a pilot program with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. to help determine where there are leaks or illegal connections in the system

Unfortunately, sewage systems issues are seen throughout the state. Cities tight on cash like Palm Bay struggle to keep up with the maintenance of the hundreds of sewer pipes that are well past their prime. They manage by conducting smoke tests to find leaks, which they then coat with an epoxy resin, which can last five to 10 years. However, preventing spills like the previous ones would require expensive increases to sewer plant capacity.

Hoffman said he was disappointed by what he’s been hearing from county officials regarding the sewage problems.

“They will lose the taxpayers if they continue to say sewage is no big deal,” Hoffman wrote in an email to FLORIDA TODAY. The County Commission “needs to own the water quality, and implement a water-quality-measurement program. I think everyone involved on the government side is side-stepping, knowing, that with time, this will go away.”

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