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It’s harder to keep sewage systems working in a low-lying place like Florida when power’s out

Stephanie Hughes Oct 5, 2022
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Camper trailers and vehicles are still partially submerged by floodwaters at the Peace River Campground on October 4, 2022 in Arcadia, Florida. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

It’s harder to keep sewage systems working in a low-lying place like Florida when power’s out

Stephanie Hughes Oct 5, 2022
Heard on:
Camper trailers and vehicles are still partially submerged by floodwaters at the Peace River Campground on October 4, 2022 in Arcadia, Florida. Sean Rayford/Getty Images
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President Joe Biden is visiting Florida today to view damage from Hurricane Ian. One part of the infrastructure that’s had problems are the wastewater systems. In parts of the state, sewers overflowed, causing raw sewage to seep into waterways – and Florida’s natural features aren’t helping.

Most sewage systems use gravity, so the wastewater flows downhill to where it can be treated. Except in low-lying places like Florida.

“Because Florida is so flat, we have to pump s—,” said Craig Fugate, a former FEMA administrator who lives in Gainesville, Florida. 

He’s using colorful language there, but he’s literally correct. Rather than relying on gravity, Florida’s wastewater systems have to use electric pumps to move sewage along. 

“And if those pumps are out, and they don’t have power, then the sewage backs up,” he said.

One solution is for more of those pumps to get hooked up to generators, which can get expensive. 

A large generator can cost up to a million dollars, said Fred Bloetscher, who teaches civil engineering at Florida Atlantic University and says another good practice that’s less costly is to try to keep any stormwater totally out of the sewer system.

“Make sure that you seal it, and you check it periodically to make sure it stays sealed,” he said.

Bloetscher added this is good advice for towns in Florida and for utilities everywhere.

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