JEA: 7M gallons of sewage spilled during Matthew

70 sewage spills dumped raw waste into river, on ground

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 6 millions gallons of sewage was spilled into waterways as a result of Hurricane Matthew, according to JEA. 

The utility reported that about 70 lift stations had backup generators fail and it was too dangerous to turn them back on during the storm, which resulted in more than 7 million gallons of raw sewage spewing into rivers and on the ground. 

"Here's what happened: Just like you sustained damage to your house, we had damage and loss of power at our different facilities and that's what caused these overflows," said Gerri Boyce, JEA spokeswoman.

JEA officials said they are on top of the situation and that the raw sewage doesn't pose a big risk, except in the immediate areas where it happened. 

"Sewage did reach waterways -- Cedar Bay, Pottsburg Creek and Ortega River," Boyce said.

Due to safety concerns, no one should swim or fish near contaminated sites, according to JEA.

About  2 p.m. Friday, there was an electrical fault at a master wastewater lift station on 118th Street on Jacksonville's Westside. 

As a result of the fault, the pumps at the station went offline during the peak of the storm and at least 5 million gallons of sewage overflowed into the Ortega River, JEA said. 

About 3:30 p.m. Friday, power went out at the Cedar Bay wastewater plant in northeast Jacksonville as "part of impacts from Hurricane Matthew," JEA said. 

Due to the outage, JEA said, the plant has not been able to fully treat the sewage and partially treated sewage has been flowing into the St. Johns River, just south of the branch of the Broward River. On average, 5 million gallons flows from the plant daily.

About 2:20 a.m. Saturday, JEA said, there was an outage reported at a wastewater lift station on Holiday Road South as a result of Hurricane Matthew, which allowed about 1.1 million gallons of sewage to overflow into the Pottsburg Creek.

JEA said that testing conducted Tuesday showed no problems at the site. But people living in the area said they're still concerned.

"It's very scary because we don't know what is going on. I don't see any activity going on down there, like, they're checking it out or working on it. I would like to get some answers as to what is going on around here," said Sandra Chambers, who lives near the Pottsburg boat ramp on Beach Boulevard. 

Chambers said her family members have been using bottled water because they are afraid to drink the well water until they get the all clear from JEA and health officials.

John Hancock, who is an avid fisherman, said he's been warning others since the incident. 

"I saw a young man at the church yesterday. He was fishing and I know he's going to eat them. I was telling him don't do it, but he didn't seem to have any concern. He's going to take his fish home to the family. Well, we know where that goes and everyone is going to get sick," Hancock said.

JEA will continue to monitor the areas. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was notified and will be working with JEA to conduct water sampling.

"Do they need to worry? I would say what they do need to do is pay attention. We have put up notices where applicable, where there was sewage that went into these waterways," Boyce said.

News4Jax and other media outlets learned about the spills because of recent law put into effect by Gov. Rick Scott. News4Jax asked Boyce if the spills would have been made public if Scott had not done that

"You would know about any large spill, you absolutely would, and whenever we have any type of event like this, we do inform our regulator," Boyce said. 

Once crews inspect all 1,700 pump stations, JEA said more problems may be discovered. On average, there are about 35 failures a year.

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.