Town Manager Tom Harmer wrote that the town’s Public Works Department believes the 25.8 million gallon discharge is a “high estimate.”
The town of Longboat Key is considering plans to begin replacing a pipe that has carried wastewater underneath Sarasota Bay to a Manatee County treatment plant since 1975.
It comes after town officials reported to state regulators on June 29 an estimated 25.8 million gallons of untreated sewage might have spilled in the break of the 20-inch pipe.
“As we learn more about the cause of the leak, and how that may relate to the condition of the pipe overall, we are also looking at opportunities to advance the redundant pipe project as part of our post-leak plan,” Town Manager Tom Harmer wrote in a July 10 news release.
Harmer said town and Manatee County utilities staff investigated “potential meter and equipment issues based on anomalous flow readings going back to June 18th.”
The pipe — which gathers sewage from the entire town and pushes it east from a pumping station on Gulf Bay Road — was repaired on June 30. The pipe is 4-8 feet below the bottom of Sarasota Bay, and runs to the facility adjacent to the Manatee County Golf Course in Bradenton.
“Initial test results are not indicating any significant water quality concerns associated with the leak within Sarasota Bay,” Harmer wrote on July 8.
The town is continuing sampling and testing of Sarasota Bay waters.
Harmer wrote that the town’s Public Works Department believes the 25.8 million gallon discharge is a “high estimate.”
“An independent testing firm is evaluating the pipe section where the leak occurred and evaluating the flow data to update the estimate,” Harmer said.
It’s unknown how much of the discharge ended up in Sarasota Bay.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Shannon Herbon said the state is in the process of completing a review.
“DEP is also working to determine causes and possible solutions to prevent unauthorized discharges in the future and will continue to work closely with the facility to address these issues,” Herbon wrote in an email. “The department will hold the facility accountable by identifying necessary restoration and/or remediation actions, with the possibility of enforcement including fines and penalties for associated violations.”
The DEP’s response is threefold:
1. Work with the facility to identify any release and ensure the release is stopped as quickly as possible.
2. Gather and analyze information surrounding the circumstances of the reported incident to evaluate it from a regulatory perspective to determine if there were any violations.
3. Identify any further corrective actions needed, including solutions to avoid discharges and possible enforcement.
Herbon confirmed the town has "several deliverables due to the department by July 20." It includes providing wastewater flow data; a detailed timeline of events leading up to the spill; Capital Investment Plans for the last three years; an updated Sewer Overflow Response Plan; and Capacity, Management Operation and Maintenance Program plan.
"Wastewater spill penalties are calculated on a case-by-case basis, once all the information on the violation has been gathered and evaluated," Herbon wrote in an email.
The DEP uses Directive 923 to calculate the appropriate penalty. The department has yet to determine whether the town of Longboat Key will receive a penalty.
In June, the DEP increased its fine for Fort Lauderdale from $1.8 million to $2.1 million after the city spilled more than 230 million gallons of sewage into rivers and waterways from December 2019 to February 2020. It’s the most expensive fine for a sewage spill in Florida history.
Longboat Key town commissioners on June 1 heard a presentation from Public Works Director Isaac Brownman on preliminary plans to build a redundant sewer link to the mainland that would ultimately become a replacement.
“[We] still want to be ahead of the timeframe by which the pipeline gets so old, we don’t want to reach any type of critical failure point,” Brownman said in June.
The original force main is designed to have a life span of 50 years. However, consultant Greely and Hansen’s report inspected the pipeline in 2016 and concluded it was in better-than-expected shape. The report estimated the pipe had 20-25 years of service remaining. At the time, the report prompted commissioners to set aside plans to spend around $25 million on a new sewage line from the island to the mainland.
“Even though the pipe was determined to be in good condition, as a precaution and as part of a proactive longer-range planning solution, last year the town budgeted dollars to advance plan and permit a redundant pipe to the mainland,” Harmer wrote.
Specifically, the town budgeted $706,801 in October 2019 for this process — $56,801 carry forward and new funding of $650,000.
The town planned in June for design plans and a permit application to be complete by July or August. The town is also planning to hold some sort of public workshop as early as this fall or by spring 2021, but it’s unclear how such a meeting would be held because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town’s plan is to provide final permit approval by the end of May 2021.
“The Town recognizes the importance of the Bay to not just Longboat Key, but to the overall region,” Harmer wrote. “We will determine what occurred, what the impacts are, coordinate with FDEP on any required mitigation efforts, and take action to help enhance our policies and infrastructure to minimize the potential for future incidents.”
Water quality testing results
A map shows the town tested water samples at six different locations in Sarasota Bay.
Florida Administrative Code 62-302.530 shows the following criteria or limit for water quality classifications:
- Enterococci #/100mL:130
- E. Coli MPN/100mL: 410
- Fecal Coliform #/100mL: 800
It means on July 6, all six testing locations surpassed the E. Coli limit for water quality classifications.
On July 8, five of the testing sites suppressed the E. Coli limit for water quality classifications. Only the WQ-3 water testing location had an E. Coli limit under the qualification at 376 MPN/100 mL.
On both days, the town's enterococci and fecal coliform testing results were less than the limit for water quality classifications.