Was Fort Lauderdale’s latest sewage spill a ‘fluke,’ or a sign of more catastrophic spills to come?

Brooke Baitinger, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

Fort Lauderdale’s frail sewer system failed again Sunday night after going months without a major rupture.

The latest break was not so much a rupture as it was a crack — one that was “only a quarter-inch wide” to be exact, according to Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Steve Glassman. But that was enough to send more than 1,000 gallons spewing back up into residential streets that eventually drain into the Tarpon Bay Canal and Intracoastal Waterway.

And it was enough to make doubts bubble back up in Fort Lauderdale residents’ minds. Was this just a fluke after all these months without a break, or are we headed toward another spate of catastrophic sewage spills like those in 2019 and 2020 that killed fish and fouled the air?

Officials stressed that they can’t predict what will happen. “It’s not so much that things happen or don’t happen, it’s the way you handle it and how fast you remedy the situation,” Glassman said. “We got out there right away, assessed the situation and made the repairs in a relatively short time.”

The exact amount of sewage spilled was not available Tuesday. The spill closed down the portion of the Intracoastal near the Tarpon Bay Canal to swimming and other recreational activities. The advisory was still in place Tuesday night.

The latest break appears to have been a “fluke,” Glassman said. The city is investigating what caused the rupture.

It happened in the district he represents, in Dolphin Isle, a beach side neighborhood that hadn’t endured any breaks yet. The pipe, a 60-year-old 12-inch force main at Northeast 25th Street and Northeast 32nd Avenue, originally was not slated to be replaced in the city’s improvement plan.

Some residents were skeptical about work the city was doing on nearby pipes last week. Crews were working on a 10-inch gravity pipe at Northeast 21st Street and State Road A1A, and tanker trucks maintained the system throughout the weekend, officials said.

The break that flooded Dolphin Isle streets was unrelated to the gravity pipe repairs, officials said.

Glassman said he’s confident it isn’t the start of another system breakdown like the ones in 2019 and 2020. The city does plan to improve the pipe to prepare it for the demands of big construction projects coming to the area, he said.

The quarter-inch crack opened up in a 3-foot section of the force main, about four blocks from the B-14 pump station that’s still in pretty good shape, Glassman said.

The area is just a hop, skip and a jump from where a new Publix Supermarket and a Homewood Suites will go up on the corner of Northeast 30th Street and A1A, Glassman said.

Because of the incoming projects, Glassman said the city will investigate the area for needed improvements and will solicit the state for funds to implement them in Fort Lauderdale, Wilton Manors and Oakland Park.

And they’ll enlarge the 12-inch force main to 16 inches, he said.

“That will be a huge improvement,” Glassman said.

Brooke Baitinger can be reached at: bbaitinger@sunsentinel.com, 954-422-0857 or Twitter: @bybbaitinger