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St. Pete Seeks Homeowners’ Help On Sewage Problem

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Suzanne Young
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

When it rains in St. Petersburg, as much as four times the amount of sewage can flow through the city's wastewater plants.

City leaders believe the increase is caused by groundwater entering the system through leaky pipes on the private property of homeowners.

The city wants to inspect those lines for leaks but it needs permission from the homeowners first.

To get it, city leaders can use a carrot or a stick, said John Palenchar, the city's interim director of water resources.

"What we need to work out is a program that has the homeowners opt in to a city inspection or requires a homeowner to have a plumber come in and do an inspection on a private property,” Palenchar said.

The city could provide rebates to cover part of the cost of repairs to pipes if homeowners allow them to be inspected. The city could also require inspections before a home is sold or significantly upgraded.

Homeowners may be reluctant to provide access because the inspections could lead to costly repairs.

Rebates, however, could offset part of that cost, Palenchar said.

The city has a financial incentive to offer the rebates, he said.

"You don't have to expand your capacity if you can keep storm water and rain water out,” Palenchar said. “So there's a net benefit to spending money on private property because overall there is an environmental and a cost benefit."

During heavy rainfall, the city's water treatment facilities are overwhelmed. Last year the city was forced to release hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay and onto city streets.

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.