1 million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled in Charlotte County

A million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled in a Southwest Florida county as crews were working to improve the area’s sewage system.

The Charlotte County Utilities director says that when crews worked on a new sewage system, they noticed pressures in their pipe system looked wrong. When they shut things down, built-up pressure caused a pipe to rupture, which led to a massive spill on old Landfill Road in Port Charlotte.

The huge multimillion-dollar project is underway to bring sewage flows into the wastewater reclamation facility more quickly and with less pressure.

“We need to do it, you know, complete this $22 million, five-year project,” said Craig Rudy, utilities director for the county.

While cutting over older pipes to add to the newer system, an unknown valve was shut, building up pressure and leading to a rupture that spilled about one million gallons of sewage.

“It was all contained in a swale. We actually had emergency tankers out there pumping it up and sucking it up and taking it to the plant,” Rudy said.

Although a majority of the spill was vacuumed up, almost 200,000 gallons ended up in the soil.

“We also encountered some spills when we brought everything back up online, because of all the storage built up in the system over 24 hours of being shut down,” he said.

Some of the other spills came out of manholes and entered local stormwater ponds.

“We actually sample those ponds and sample them and monitor them for bacteria until they go down to a safe level. At this point in time, everything’s gone down to a safe level since it’s been over a week,” Rudy said.

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani says that aging sewage infrastructure is a statewide issue and his concerns go beneath the surface.

“There’s more than pathogens in raw sewage. There’s pharmaceuticals, there’s heavy metals, there’s lots of other constituents that the wastewater treatment plant typically removes, so that’s raw sewage into the groundwater, and we don’t know what else is in there,” Cassani said.

Charlotte County Utilities will try to cut over the old pipes to the newer system again on Friday. The entire project is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Drew Hill
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