Gulf of Mexico

Sarasota County Spills Millions Of Gallons Of Wastewater Into Area Wetlands

Sarasota County is under fire for the massive amount of treated wastewater that has spilled from its Bee Ridge treatment facility into local waterways. Three nonprofits have told the county they plan to sue if it cannot figure out how to stop the spillage.

The issue, said Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and executive director, Justin Bloom, is much more complicated than just an overflow of wastewater.

Sarasota County’s issues are two-fold, he said.

"Part one is the collection system, which is in disrepair and spills sewage, particularly when it rains a lot,” he explained. “Part two is the reuse system. It’s not a problem with their capacity to treat gallons of sewage. They’re able to treat the sewage the way the treatment facility is designed. The problem is there’s not a lot of demand for the treated wastewater.”

Mike Mylett, division manager for water and wastewater for Sarasota County public utilities, said demand for reclaimed water is down because of a wet winter season.

“People aren’t irrigating as much as they normally do so there’s more reclaimed water (left over).”

Bloom, however, argues that the reason demand is down is more complicated than that.

“There’s so much nitrogen in this partially treated wastewater that the end users don’t want it,” he said.

He added that documentation shows Sarasota County’s treated wastewater has 18 or 19 milligrams per liter of nitrogen. He used other plants like the city of Sarasota's and Bradenton's as a comparison, both of which have three or less miligrams per liter of nitrogen in their treated wastewater.

“It is acknowledged throughout the scientific community that human sources of nitrogen significantly fuels red tide,” Bloom said. “So I'm making a connection between these failing sewage systems in Sarasota and throughout the region and increased nitrogen in our local waterways which fuels red tide."

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