News Feature | September 19, 2017

Hurricane Irma Brings Wastewater Fallout To Florida

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Earlier this month, Hurricane Irma brought pounding winds and torrential rain to the Caribbean and Florida, and along with it came wastewater issues.

As the storm engulfed the state, utilities prepared for inundations at wastewater treatment plants.

“Just as it downs electricity poles and submerges streets above ground, the avalanche of water unleashed by a hurricane disrupts the order of things down below, where waste goes after you flush,” reported Quartz. “South Florida’s sewer infrastructure is particularly vulnerable. Like many urban areas across the U.S., its wastewater lines are rickety. On top of that, many locals store their sewage in underground septic tanks, whose contents are prone to escape during storms.”

The fears come from experience, as the state has had its fair share of hurricane-induced wastewater issues.

“Storm surges can overwhelm area cities’ wastewater treatment plants, sending runoff into Tampa Bay,” according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “When Hurricane Hermine brushed past in September 2016, several municipalities released partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay because treatment plants ran out of capacity.”

As Irma tore across Florida, those fears were realized. utility employees in the state discharged thousands of gallons of raw sewage.

“First Hurricane Irma blew through,” reported The Washington Post. “Then the electricity went out. Then a work crew made an error while working on a pump station in the sewage system. And soon, 2,000 gallons of raw sewage was spilling onto a quiet residential street of ranch houses in Edgewater, a town south of Daytona Beach.”

The Post reported a similar incident taking place in Miami-Dade, with six million gallons of partially treated wastewater being discharged into Biscayne Bay.

In the days after the storm occurred, it appeared that wastewater issues were various and abundant.

“In many places, wastewater systems ran backward,” the Post reported. “In a neighborhood of Orlando, flooding caused a filter system to overflow and about 10,000 gallons of partly treated effluent bubbled up through the manhole covers. A sewer backed up into six homes and sewage ran into storm water ponds.”

As the state continues its recovery and prepares for future storms, wastewater will have to remain top of mind.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Hurriance Irma," Ryan © 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: