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Bradenton spilled 1.2 million gallons of sewage into Manatee River. What happens next?

Last week, over 1 million gallons of partially treated sewage from Bradenton were discharged into the Manatee River due to a blockage at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

It’s the first major wastewater spill reported since the city settled a lawsuit in 2022 with Suncoast Waterkeeper for releasing too much pollution into the river. The agreement required Bradenton to make major upgrades to its wastewater treatment facilities to prevent future spills.

Bradenton officials say those changes are underway and should be finished by 2032. They include $20 million in upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and another $20 million to overhaul the city’s wastewater collection system, City Administrator Rob Perry said.

But in the meantime, the city’s aged infrastructure is still causing problems, Perry said.

“We are trying to fix legacy problems that have plagued the city for quite some time,” Perry said. “The goal is to have no spills at all.”

But the local environmental protection group is holding the city accountable for the sewage release and urging government leaders to share water quality testing results for the spill area.

“We’ve been working with the city to improve its infrastructure and the way it reports these spills,” said Abbey Tyrna, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper.

“There’s definitely the will to make these improvements, and there is the money, so it’s just going to take time,” she added. “Eventually, they will come into compliance.

A large segment of the Manatee River is considered impaired due to too many nutrients and fecal bacteria in the water, according to state data.

Here’s what to know about the recent spill.

What caused the issue at the wastewater plant?

On Thursday, city staff reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that a blockage in the wastewater treatment plant’s filter system forced a bypass of 1.2 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the Manatee River. The sewage was discharged north of Riverside Drive East, according to information submitted to FDEP.

Perry said the city is still reviewing what caused the clog. He added that improvements planned for the treatment plant include additional filtering capacity that should prevent such issues in the future.

Will Bradenton be punished for sewage spill?

FDEP will fine the city for the spill. An amount has not yet been determined, Perry said.

However, the state allows that money to be used for remediation projects.

“It goes back into improving the system,” Perry said.

This spill and any future spill will also likely result in additional fines that were approved in the city’s settlement with Suncoast Waterkeeper, Tyrna said. That money would go to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and FDEP for water quality restoration projects.

Is population growth causing wastewater issues?

“It’s really not related to growth. It’s related to aged infrastructure,” Perry said.

The water treatment plant can handle about 9 million gallons of water per day, while the city’s average use is a little over 6 million gallons per day, Perry said. The planned infrastructure improvements should bring the facility’s capacity to 20 million gallons per day, according to Perry.

He noted that the city typically only experiences water capacity issues during the wet season when aged and corroded pipes allow in extra water that should not be in the system — another issue that will be fixed with upcoming improvements.

What could Bradenton do better?

Tyrna said that she would like to see the city post water quality testing data as well as public health advisories for those who boat, kayak and fish in the area where the spill occurred.

“Alerting the public about the spill and increased risk would be an important contribution,” Tyrna said.

Perry said water quality data will be available in the coming days.

How can the public help?

While infrastructure issues are primarily responsible for the wastewater spills, Perry said that residents can help reduce overall strain on the sewer system by not putting grease and other inappropriate items down the drain.

The Suncoast Waterkeeper environmental protection group is holding the city of Bradenton accountable for the sewage release and urging government leaders to share water quality testing results for the spill area.
The Suncoast Waterkeeper environmental protection group is holding the city of Bradenton accountable for the sewage release and urging government leaders to share water quality testing results for the spill area.