Following the dumping of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways by local governments in 2016, two state lawmakers filed legislation Thursday to incentivize local governments and private utilities to dedicate more resources to improving their sewage infrastructure.
St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes and Pasadena Representative Kathleen Peters‘ bill (SB 1476) creates within the state Environmental Regulation Commission, the Blue Star Collection System Assessment and Maintenance Program to limit the unauthorized releases or spills of treated or untreated wastewater and the unauthorized discharge of pathogens.
“This legislation gives utilities an incentive to improve their infrastructure assets and prevent harmful discharges into our waterways,” said Brandes. “With this bill we are able to recognize those utilities that implement industry best practices and encourage continued upgrades to limit future discharges.”
“I have given my commitment to working on solutions for Florida as they relate to our sewer systems,” added Peters. “I believe this bill is a first step to ensure our public and private utilities are operating optimally state wide and an effort to prevent another storm from resulting in more overflows or dumping.”
Certification under the program requires a utility to engage in detailed assessments of their sewer infrastructure, reinvest resources into maintenance, identify strategies to improve infrastructure to meet state requirements, as well as several additional requirements. To incentivize participation in the program, the department may reduce penalties for a future sewer overflow based on a utility’s status as a Certified Blue Star Utility. The bill allows financially constrained counties to apply grants to implement the requirements of the Blue Star certification. The bill also authorizes existing grant funds to assess the vulnerability of wastewater infrastructure to identify needed improvements to prevent future discharges and overflows.
Peters has also filed legislation requesting $5.5 million for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. Of that, $3 million in state funding would be earmarked for St. Petersburg to smoke test sewer pipes for leaks, install and seal manholes, among other work. The remaining $2.5 million would go to St. Pete Beach for the engineering, construction and permitting of the city’s sanitary sewer system. There is no Senate companion for that yet.
Sewer systems in South Pinellas were the focus of extensive news coverage last year after the repeated sewage discharges into Tampa Bay by local governments. St.Pete’s sewage system discharged more than 200 million gallons of waste into waterways, roadways and neighborhoods in the over the past two years.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has pledged to spend $304 million to fix the city’s sewers by 2021.