BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) – Both Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay have taken hits over the last few years with bouts of red tide and seagrass loss. Founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper Justin Bloom says there’s too much nitrogen in our waterways and aging infrastructure is part of the problem.
“Sewage plagues this area and it is not just Bradenton. Many municipalities have spills, but I think Bradenton has been accounted for more than their share, a lot more recently,” Bloom said.
Suncoast Waterkeeper and other environmental groups in the region are joining forces to hold the City of Bradenton accountable over a series of sewage spills over the last few years. Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, ManaSota-88 and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper have filed a 60-day notice of violation of the Clean Water Act and notice of intent to file suit for what they’re calling “serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act.”
Bloom says the city has dumped around 160,000,000 gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the Manatee River over the last four years.
“As recently as this summer, there was one incident where they dumped over 13,000,000 gallons into the Manatee River over the course of one day,” said Bloom.
Suncoast Waterkeeper has filed similar suits with other municipalities in Tampa Bay including Sarasota County, St. Petersburg, Gulfport and Largo.
“Like with other municipalities in this area, we brought this to their attention and we hope that we will be able to work with them and their staff to come up with solutions rather than litigate,” Bloom explained. “They need to study their system, find out where they have vulnerabilities, where they have problems, where they have decaying pipes and they need to come up with a plan and invest in rehabilitating their system.”
“Most of it, I think, is their collection system but they also need to fix the problems of their treatment system and come up with the right engineering solutions to make it work right and to ultimately comply with their permit,” Bloom added.
8 On Your Side reached out to Bradenton officials for comment. City officials sent us this statement about what’s been done over the past few years:
“Over the past four years, we have been spending between a half- and three-quarters of a million dollars a year to line leaky sewers and brick manholes to minimize groundwater infiltration. In the current city budget, we have budgeted $800,000 more for the same thing and are seeking to supplement with a million dollars of ARPA funding. Additionally, we have submitted a request for $500,000 from legislature for next year along with a proposed budget of additional $800,000 of city money, to improve infrastructure to reduce flows to the treatment plant. Also, we have ordered a new and larger filter backwash pump to allow us to recover faster when the filters become overloaded. Lastly, we are at about 60% design on a new wet-weather settling tank that will allow the plant to absorb larger peak flows and minimize filter overloads.”
We also spoke with city administrator Rob Perry Tuesday afternoon.
“We absolutely look forward to working with the Waterkeepers group because we want to be good stewards of our environment and we try to do that each and every day,” said Perry. “We look forward to meeting with them, to looking at our MS4 Permit that allows us, unfortunately, to have to do these discharges and trying to find solutions and other capital improvements that will continue along the road of process improvement and ultimately minimizing these types of discharges.”
Bloom says this is no little matter.
“We are coming to a tipping point where our bays can only sustain so much pollution, so every little bit counts and every municipality, every polluter and every person has to do their share to reduce their footprint,” said Bloom.
The environmental groups hope to meet with the city in early December. If the parties do not come to a resolution within the 60-day statutory notice period, litigation will move forward.