Backed-up toilets and dirty dishes: Eta’s floods are ‘wreaking havoc’ on sewage systems

Andrew Boryga, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

Tropical Storm Eta could result in unflushed toilets and unwashed dishes in parts of South Florida.

The immense amount of water dumped on Broward County has brought warnings to limit water use in some areas so the sewage system isn’t overtaxed.

Already, water has infiltrated the pipes and swamped water-treatment plants, forcing them to deal with twice the amount of wastewater they are used to. It’s also resulted in stinky sewage water bubbling to the surface in some areas.

City officials in Hollywood told residents on Wednesday to help curb the overload at their plant by reducing the amount of times they flush the toilet and run their dishwashers and washing machines. The heavy rains that brought flooding “are now wreaking havoc on regional wastewater treatment systems,” the city said in a statement.

In Fort Lauderdale, Miramar, Pembroke Pines and other parts of Broward officials said their own treatment plants had been similarly overwhelmed in previous days but were improving as of Wednesday.

Hollywood’s treatment plant also processes sewage for parts of Pembroke Pines, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach and other neighboring cities. According to city spokeswoman Raelin Storey, the plant normally sees about 50 million gallons of waste a day.

Since Sunday that has shot up to more than 100 million gallons a day. “It’s just really taxing all of the equipment at our wastewater plant and creating problems,” she said. “We just can’t process it fast enough.”

Storey said that Eta’s rains combined with higher tides and a saturated ground from previous rainfall created a perfect recipe for disaster.

With nowhere else to go, storm water and ground water seeped into the sewage system through manhole covers and cracks in pipes. All that excess water was then transported to local treatment plants like the one in Hollywood.

“A number of plants are struggling with this same thing,1/4 u2033 she said.

Paul Thompson, the assistant utilities director for Pembroke Pines, said that about half of the city’s waste is processed by Hollywood’s plant. Another half is processed by a city plant.

Thompson said Pembroke Pines’ plant, which serves the west side of the city that was hardest hit by Eta, normally sees about 9 million gallons of waste a day. But after Eta dropped 14 inches of rain on Pembroke Pines, the system was working on overtime to process 18 million gallons a day.

He said all that excess water resulted in toilets and sinks remaining backed up. He said those issues have decreased but will not totally vanish until all the excess water is processed. “That’s all we can do,” he said. “Keep treating.”

In parts of Fort Lauderdale earlier this week, residents complained to the South Florida Sun Sentinel about backed-up toilets. However, on Wednesday, city spokesman Mike Jachles said all systems were running smoothly.

He said that the city was not planning on issuing any notices to residents. “I think we’ve seen the worst of it,” he said.

Storey said Hollywood officials are hoping they will soon be able to say the same. However, further rain or flooding won’t help.

Experts at the National Hurricane Center also have warned that South Florida could experience king tides this week, which would also add to the problem.

Storey said that the only real recourse the city has at the moment is to ask residents to reduce their own addition of used water to the system. This includes reducing the length of their showers, limiting the flushing of toilets and trying not to run a dishwasher or washing machine if it isn’t necessary.

“The more we can reduce, the easier it is for us to get the upper hand on the amount of storm water and ground water that we are processing," she said.

In the meantime, residents in Hollywood and neighboring cities may continue to experience issues in their homes, or see smelly sewage bubbling to the surface on streets.

Terry Cantrell, a Hollywood resident and president of the Hollywood Lakes Civic Association, said he woke up Wednesday morning to emails and text messages from residents who had noticed the latter. “It’s not a good situation."

All the excess water running through sewer systems in southern Broward draws concerns to an already fragile series of interconnected pipes.

For much of this year, Fort Lauderdale has been plagued by a series of busted sewage pipes, spewing sewage into streets and running up price tabs up into the hundreds of millions to repair.

Storey said that Hollywood has invested millions of dollars since 2009 shoring up the city’s sewage lines, lining the pipes with protective materials to guard against leaks and cracks. Jachles said that although Fort Lauderdale has struggled in the past, the city is also hopeful that its system will hold.

“We did aggressive maintenance in advance of the storm," he said. “Things are running smooth and have been running smooth all week.”

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