In recent months, St. Petersburg has become the poster child for a crumbling sewer infrastructure that’s dumped millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay.
But the problem of failing infrastructure is much bigger than St. Pete. It’s countywide. The county, Largo, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs — just to name four — also have had problems with sewer systems unable to handle recent heavy rains.
It’s an urgent problem, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said Monday. It’s one complicated by a fragmented system that’s undergone decades of neglect. It’s time, Long said, to consider a countywide sewer system, somewhat like the solid waste management system.
The county runs the one landfill in Pinellas and oversees the one waste-to-energy facility in Pinellas. On the other hand, Pinellas County has 17 sewer systems — one belonging to the county, 13 belonging to municipalities, and three belonging to private landowners, according to county records.
The cost to upgrade those, in particular for the systems run by smaller cities like Treasure Island, South Pasadena, Gulfport, Redington Shores, and North Redington Beach, could be prohibitive.
“These are big infrastructure projects that one little city can’t handle on its own,” Long said.
Even the bigger cities will have problems affording improvements.
A better system, she said, would bring all the systems under one umbrella. Then, a study could be done to see how best to develop a state-of-the-art system for the entire county. After that, a decision could be made on ways to free up the necessary resources to pay to have the system put in place.
“I’m hoping that this task force will help us get there,” Long said. She was referring to a county task force Pinellas commissioners agreed to set up to find long-range solutions to the flooding and sewer infrastructure problems.
The failing infrastructure is a problem caused by decades of neglect, she said, in part because there’s never been an outcry to improve the wastewater system.
“There’s never been a brouhaha over the sewer system until now,” Long said. But now that people are paying attention, it’s time to find a long-term solution.
“We can’t wait 20 years,” she said.