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Hundreds of gallons of untreated wastewater released in Palm Springs sewage spill

No-swim advisory remains in effect for waterways near L-9 canal
Posted at 5:41 PM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 23:19:12-05

PALM SPRINGS, Fla. — About 336,000 gallons of untreated wastewater was released into a waterway after a 16-inch force main break in Palm Springs more than a week ago, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told WPTV via email Thursday.

The sewage spill happened on Feb. 20 at around 8 a.m. near 2459 S Congress Ave. in the L-9 canal.

According to a report released by the DEP, the village began to isolate the flow of sewage and contacted an emergency contractor to make the repair on the force main. Sewage flow was limited but could not be completely stopped by utilities staff, the report said. The emergency contractor fully stopped sewage flow the next day at around 12:30 p.m., more than 24 hours after the main break. The force main was repaired later that day at around 5:30 p.m.

"As you can see, (the canal) still looks like chocolate milk," Deb Callei, a resident who lives along the canal, said. "There's still a little bit of an odor."

Deb Callei explains to WPTV reporter Joel Lopez on Feb. 29, 2024, about the impacts on the community following the sewage spill.
Deb Callei explains to WPTV reporter Joel Lopez on Feb. 29, 2024, about the impacts on the community following the sewage spill.

Callei said she has spotted dead animals floating in the canal.

"I'm concerned about my neighbors and the environment," Callei said.

The Lake Worth Drainage District maintains and manages the canal, but said the village is in charge of the cleanup.

"Do you know what caused the spill in the first place?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked Tommy Strowd, the executive director of the Lake Worth Drainage District.

"No, I don't," Strowd said. "From my understanding, it's a relatively old line that's there on the bridge."

"I know the barricades block what's floating on the water, are there any concerns about what got through below the water?" asked Lopez.

Tommy Strowd says it's still unclear what caused the spill in the first place.
Tommy Strowd says it's still unclear what caused the spill in the first place.

"Yeah, I think that's why one of the protocols is to do water quality monitoring," Strowd said. "They don't just sample in one spot. They sample numerous locations."

He said daily water samples will be able to tell if pollution levels have dropped, but he is waiting for results from the samples.

On Feb. 22, the village of Palm Springs told WPTV they had repaired the sewer main break after the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County issued a health advisory in the area due to the wastewater spill into the canal.

Days after the sewage spill, Lopez spoke with residents in the area who complained about the "terrible" smell in their neighborhood.

"I think they take too much time, I don't know what they doing, but it smells like terrible, terrible," Maria Ordaz, who lives houses down from where the spill happened, told Lopez. "When I go out of my house, I'm like, 'Oh my God. What's that smell?'"

The DEP said booms were placed both up and downstream from the break to aid in the temporary containment of the spilled wastewater, which was then pumped out and recovered into the wastewater treatment system. Vacuum trucks have removed more than 345,000 gallons of impacted surface waters as part of these efforts, according to the DEP.

A no-swim advisory remains in effect for the nearby waterways in the area.

Water sampling at multiple points within the canal and connecting surface waters also remains ongoing to monitor bacteria levels, the DEP said.

On Friday, village of Palm Springs Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Lauren Bennett responded to Lopez's inquiries and provided some insight into the sewage spill. She said mechanical failure of the bracing straps caused the main to break. She also said village staff estimates this main is about 60 years old.

The main is still within operational age limits and the pipe was inspected at the break and shows to be in good condition, Bennett said via email. She added, the above ground infrastructure is visually inspected for leaks on a regular basis.