Beaches closed in Miami after tropical disturbance causes sewage to overflow
Exceedingly high flows due to flooding and elevated groundwater levels caused sewer overflows throughout Miami-Dade County, Florida
MIAMI – A tropical disturbance that produced nearly a foot of rain in South Florida caused sewage overflows, prompting officials to issue a no-swim advisory along some popular beaches.
Miami-Dade County said Saturday that the exceedingly high flows due to flooding and elevated groundwater levels caused sewer overflows throughout the central part of the county.
As a result, a no-swim advisory was issued for several coastal communities including South Beach and Virginia Key Beach until further notice.
"This was a capacity issue of so much rain is so little time," Jennifer Messemer with Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department (WASD) said.
The county’s wastewater treatment plant is permitted to receive an annual average daily flow of 143 million gallons of wastewater and reported continuous flows of more than 310 million gallons of sewage and rainwater Saturday.
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Messemer says that nearly a foot of water led to a wastewater overflow from the facility.
The county said that the untreated water has the potential to mix with floodwaters and flow into nearby waterways.
"We are working hard to monitor our water quality and ensure the public’s safety as we mitigate issues related to the extremely heavy rainfall received during this severe weather event," WASD Director Roy Coley said in a statement.
The Florida Department of Health will collect samples over several days to determine whether the water is safe for recreational use.
No-swim advisories are expected to remain in effect until the agency gets two consecutive days of normal readings.
Miami-Dade County is no stranger to sewer backups and Environment Florida says the area has a history of sewer system failures.
"In 2016, a study of recent king tide floodwater pumped out to Biscayne Bay revealed leaks from sewage pipes are widespread on Miami Beach," the organization writes. "And in 2012, federal authorities forced Miami-Dade County to overhaul its sewage system after it ruptured more than 65 times over the course of two years."
The sewage problems extend throughout the state and usually becomes evident during tropical trouble.
During Hurricane Irma in 2017, it's estimated over 28 million gallons of wastewater spilled into waterways, neighborhoods and areas that shouldn't see pollution.
Environment Florida said that’s equivalent to every person in the city of Miami flushing their toilet 38 times.
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Even though this tropical disturbance wasn’t a hurricane or even tropical storm, the nearly foot of rain was enough to cause big problems
Messemer said that the county is working on bettering the sewage system, so issues like this don’t happen again.
"The county is working on a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program to enhance and upgrade the water and sewer infrastructure," Messemer stated.
Miami-Dade Water and Sewer entered into a federally-mandated settlement to improve wastewater collection and treatment to the tune of $1.6 billion over the next several years.
The program will make upgrades to the sanitary sewer collection system, pump stations and other important infrastructure with the hopes that scenes of wastewater leaking into communities will become a sight of the past.