I-TEAM: New test results show elevated bacteria levels in Pottsburg Creek

90,000 gallons of raw sewage overflowed into creek in Jacksonville’s Grove Park neighborhood

View of Pottsburg Creek following raw sewage spill. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New test results show elevated bacteria levels in Pottsburg Creek, where a pump malfunctioned over the weekend at a wastewater site on Holiday Road, the News4JAX I-TEAM has learned.

While it’s a popular spot for fishing and boating, for the time being, people are being told not to drink, swim or fish in the water there.

JEA confirmed with the I-TEAM that crews will continue sampling and testing the water daily as its investigation into the spill continues.

The I-TEAM reported Monday that approximately 90,000 gallons of raw sewage overflowed into Pottsburg Creek, a waterway in Jacksonville’s Grove Park neighborhood that runs directly into the St. Johns River, according to a report JEA filed with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Video from the Sky 4 drone appeared to show some of the leakage into the creek.

JEA said a pump at a regional wastewater site failed Sunday afternoon as contractors were working on them. The overflow incident, according to the report, lasted from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Holiday Road lift station is where wastewater, including sewage from toilets, goes before hitting one of JEA’s treatment centers.

The I-TEAM went to the area after obtaining the report from DEP. The neighborhood near the leak had a stench of feces. A yard sign next to the road notified neighbors of a sewage overflow, urging them to avoid fishing, swimming in or drinking the water.

News4JAX flew the Sky 4 drone over the area and noticed brown, cloudy water. Neighbors, who didn’t know what had happened, said it’s not a pleasant sight or scent.

“It’s a surprise,” said resident Mike Best, who lives nearby. “Definitely don’t want sewage in our waterways.”

JEA managers told the I-TEAM that contractors were doing renovations on this sewage station, putting in new pipes and valves, as well as odor control and an emergency generator. They were still investigating what happened to cause the overflow. They said several contractors were involved and they weren’t sure who, if any, was at fault.

News4JAX has requested the names of the contracting companies from JEA.

“The failure occurred with the bypass system - which helps the lift station with operations - during a construction project designed to improve the system,” JEA’s media relations manager Karen McCallister said. “The impacted ground area was remediated, and hydrated lime was applied to the affected soil to kill bacteria and reduce odors.”

She said as the investigation and remediation continued, the site was back up and running as normal.

“JEA began taking samples of the impacted water area today (Jan. 17),” she wrote. “First results are expected late morning on Jan. 18. JEA notified state regulatory agencies on Jan. 16 and placed sanitary sewer overflow signs in the vicinity of the release advising residents against swimming, fishing or drinking from nearby bodies of water.”

“There needs to be more oversight,” Best said.

He is upset about the situation, especially because in the summer of 2021, he helped the I-TEAM uncover contractors pumping dirty water into the creek just blocks away. They were using a piece of private property along the waterway to swap dirt for a construction site when Best used his drone to discover milky water being pumped into the creek.

DEP investigators found the work was unpermitted and potentially hazardous.

“This is even worse I think,” Best said. “This is raw sewage. Whereas over there it was just dirty water.”

Jacksonville City Council member Kevin Carrico, who represents the area, told the I-TEAM that he would work to find out what happened.

“I am upset to hear about yet another impact on Pottsburg Creek yesterday. I’m working with JEA officials to figure out what happened and what’s going to be done about it. Pottsburg is a hidden gem here on the Southside and I’ll do everything I can to preserve and protect it,” Carrico said in a statement to News4JAX.

In 2016, News4JAX reported that 1.1 million gallons of sewage overflowed into Pottsburg Creek during and after Hurricane Matthew came through the area.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.