Power outages at sewage lift stations and water reclamation facilities continue to wreak havoc with overflows seeping into lakes and homes throughout Central Florida.
Orlando, Winter Park, Maitland and Altamonte Springs have closed all lakes and are hustling to control elevated bacteria levels. Sewage is seeping into nine Altamonte Springs apartments and residents of Maitland are fed up with a pump station they say has failed for 22 years.
Due to power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, sewage overflows have occurred adjacent to Bay Lake, Lake Pearl, Lake Jessamine and Lake Conway. Orange County officials are taking water samples and will update residents on when it is safe to use the lakes, according to Doreen Overstreet, spokesperson for the county.
Orange County Utilities experienced power outages at 447 pump stations but generators were used and power restored five days after the storm.
The City of Orlando has experienced a total of 15 sewage overflows.
“As soon as it was safe after the storm, our wastewater staff has been working 24/7 to ensure our lift stations and treatments plants are up and operating,” said Cassandra Lafser, spokesperson for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
All three treatment plants and 229 lift stations were operating at full power Tuesday, and one station is being powered by generators. City crews are working with private lift station operators to help them fix issues, Lafser said.
Ana Rodriguez, who lives on Lake Maitland, said she realizes Hurricane Irma brought a large amount of rain, however the water backs up during a daily rainstorm in her neighborhood of multimillion dollar homes.
“This is an ongoing problem for the last 22 years for people who have lived on Westwind Court,” said Rodriguez, who lost power for eight days and cannot use the lake behind her home. “Obviously, this issue is beyond the scope of the City of Maitland. The city needs to hire an independent company to resolve this problem once and for all.”
Rodriquez complained that the city spends money on bike path signs but not on updating infrastructure.
“Sewage drainage and lift station operations are necessities,” she said.
Mark Reggentin, Maitland’s assistant city manager, said the city has received complaints from neighbors on Westwind Court that the light has come on at the lift station but they are rotating generators, pumping water down and there has been no sewage spillage.
Nine apartments have been flooded with sewage at Boca Vista Apartments at 545 Nantucket Court in Altamonte Springs.
“The whole place smelled like raw sewage this morning,” said Jessica Swatts, a Boca Vista resident. “I understand lift stations go out after storms but this is Florida and we have hurricanes. They need to figure out some back-up plan.”
Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said city crews discovered it was a private sewage problem at Boca Vista. The property manager at the apartment complex did not return a reporter’s call.
All Central Florida lakes are experiencing elevated levels of bacteria following Hurricane Irma, which dumped 17 inches of rain in the region. Rainwater washes bacteria from animal waste into lakes and creeks, and can cause skin infections, or if ingested, can cause gastroenteritis.
“Hurricane Irma exacerbated this issue because widespread power outages caused sanitary sewer lift stations to fail across Florida, and failures to some of our local systems resulted in sewage overflowing into our lakes and/or lakes upstream,” said Clarissa Howard, spokesperson for the City of Winter Park.
The St. Johns River Water Management District is providing pumps and personnel to help municipalities deal with flooding problems. Executive Director Ann Shortelle praised district staff for their quick response.
“Without hesitation, they jumped into action to assist local governments and residents by getting pumps deployed to help alleviate flooding as soon as storm conditions allowed us to safely do so,” Shortelle said.
City and county officials are asking residents and businesses to conserve water and reduce the risk of sewer backups.
“Many people think water conservation is needed when there is a shortage of water, but this is quite the opposite as there is too much water in the system and flushing, running your dishwater or washing machine will continue to add more water to the system at a time when it is experiencing high-water flow,” Lafser said.
Dishwashers, sinks, washing machines, showers, and toilets should be used sparingly.