Rise in sewage spills linked to debris from Hurricane Michael

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Sanitary sewer overflows, or sewage spills, have caused quite the stink since Hurricane Michael, but Panama City officials said there's a reason these spills keep happening.

Debris like the one pictured above is getting into the sewage pipes causing them to burst. (WJHG/WECP)

"What we're asking is that certainly cap the water lines, cap the sewer lines at the properties edge whenever they're demoing properties because what we're finding is that many are not capping that and as a result there's a lot of infiltration of debris and products that go into the sewer systems that are not designed to go into the sewer system," said Panama City Manager Mark McQueen.

Certain regulations must be followed when demolishing a building, something city officials said has been ignored by some property owners since the storm.

"We look to make sure that the lateral, which is the sewer entrance, has been brought to the property line, cut and capped, that keeps anything from entering into our sewer and getting into our pumps, or even sand from building up in the sewer and causing backups," said the Panama City Utilities Manager Robert Bush.

They also said the lack of trees to soak up rainwater has contributed to the spills because there's now much more water going into the sewer systems.

"Our lift stations are designed for a certain amount of flow, so a station where a pump was designed to pump 100 gallons a minute, now may be getting 600 gallons a minute, it's not designed to keep up with the amount of flow coming into the station," said Bush.

In the two years before Hurricane Michael, Panama City had only four reported spills. From October 10, 2018, to October 9, 2019, the city had 20 reported spills, each of which costs the city thousands of dollars.

"It's a big issue for us as a community, in that together, we've got to find a solution to this," said McQueen.

Besides asking citizens to properly cap lines, city officials said they're also doing their part by working to get the decades-old pipes replaced.

"These are all part of the plan for the city of Panama City as we look at key and vital infrastructure, it's one of the lines of efforts, the four lines of efforts for the city, and it's important that we get after this if we're going to rebuild the city to be the premier city in the panhandle of Florida," said McQueen.

Officials said reducing spills will also help preserve our bay and keep it clean.

Copyright 2019 WJHG. All rights reserved.