Yesterday, it was announced that 35,000 gallons of untreated sewage had spewed into Bayou Grande due to a broken water line. Emerald Coastkeeper Sava Varazo was pegging the number at about 100,000 gallons. This morning, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority Spokesman Jim Roberts provided the official figure: “I think it’s 72,000.”
“They sent too few trucks and when they capacitated out, the rest hit the water,” Varazo said, describing ECUA’s response as “half-ass.” “You can’t say, ‘let’s go back and get more trucks.’ It’s coming down the pipe and if it doesn’t go in the truck it goes in the water.”
The environmentalist, who is also a former Florida Department of Environmental Protection staffer, said that the spill was indicative of the system’s aging infrastructure. He argues that ECUA—which is bound by a DEP consent order to address its infrastructure issues— is not dealing with the problems quick enough.
“These are the kinds of issues that you know are going to happen, and it happened,” Varazo said. “You need to be proactive, and instead you’re still in a reactive state.”
Roberts said that this incident was not due to the system’s infrastructure issues. He said it was due to a “PVC pipe out there that basically fractured and splintered.”
“No. This? No,” he said. “This was an accident. The pipe just gave way. You can’t project these things.”
The ECUA spokesman said that when the spill was detected, the lift station was turned off, causing an overflow from manholes. This was apparently due to the high volume of usage at the time.
“The break actually happened during the high-time of usage, Navy base usage,” Roberts explained.
ECUA dispatched three tankers and four “vac-trucks” to the scene. The trucks sucked up the sewage and transferred it to the 6,500-gallon tankers.
Roberts said the flow-rate of the backup was between 800 and 1,000 gallons per minute. It took about 20 minutes for the three tankers to fill up.
“It was just too much volume in wastewater for the trucks to capture,” Roberts said, explaining that when the tankers were full, they transferred the sewage, then returned for more.
The ECUA spokesman also said that the sewage spill did not go directly into the waters of Bayou Grande. He said that the sewage release first traveled across a grassy area, at which point it was sprayed with the chemical Neu-tra-dis.