1.5M gallons of sewage spills as Irma rains 200B gallons on Jacksonville

Water dumped on JEA service area equals 22 days of St. Johns River flow

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hurricane Irma dropped 200 billion gallons of water on the JEA service area, according to estimates from utility officials.

That's the equivalent of the flow of water through the St. Johns River for 22 days, JEA CEO Paul McElroy said.

Power was lost to more than a dozen pump stations, adding to the sewer system hit from Irma.

JEA’s sewage treatment system processed 600 million gallons of sewage over a four-day period, and 1.5 million gallons of untreated sewage overflowed. 

Last October, during Hurricane Matthew, more than 70 JEA lift stations lost power during the storm, dumping about 10 million gallons of raw sewage into the St. Johns River, according to JEA officials.

Crews are still working to determine all the spill locations and volumes from Hurricane Irma, but at least five areas saw more than 100,000 gallons spill, including:

  • 111247 Beacon Dr., which dumped about 110,000 gallons into the St. Johns River after a power outage at a lift station about midnight Monday.
  • 4526 Detaille St., which dropped about 190,000 gallons into the Ribault River after a power outage at a lift station about midnight Monday
  • 10828 Hampton Road, which dumped about 330,000 gallons from a tank into Deep Bottom Creek after a power outage and generator failure about 3:15 a.m. Monday at Mandarin Water Reclamation Facility
  • 1245 Reclamation Dr., which spilled about 300,000 gallons that was contained on site and recovered after a power outage and generator failure about 11:50 p.m. Monday at Blacks Ford Water Reclamation Facility
  • 679 Cottage Hill Dr. E., where about 141,000 gallons overflowed from a manhole into a nearby pond about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday

Dozens of other sites also saw spills ranging from 30 gallons to 70,100 gallons, and others had spills that have yet to be measured.

Jessie Jackson, who lives next to the Detaille Street lift station, said his neighborhood still smelled Thursday morning after raw sewage leaked onto the streets and into the river.

“It smelled like gas, eggs, doo doo -- it smelled bad,” Jackson said. "I figured something was going on because of how fast they came and cleaned it up.”

He said he warned his children that the waters could make them sick.

Jackson's neighbor was cleaning out floodwaters that had come up to his truck's bumper. He said he didn't know why it smelled so bad.

“I didn't know it was a sewage spill. I thought it ran over from the river,” the man said. “It smells really bad. I have the (truck) doors open right now to dry it out, and I still have to have it detailed." 

JEA has 1,400 lift stations across the city. They are essential because they pump sewage from homes and businesses to sewage treatment plants. When they lose power during a hurricane, backup generators are used to keep the stations online. During Hurricane Matthew, JEA had 250 backup generators. They added another 230 in preparation for Hurricane Irma.  

The City of Atlantic Beach reported two sanitary sewage spills: one at a wastewater treatment plant on Sandpiper Driver and the other along Selva Marina Drive, where 20,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled.

Neptune Beach reported four sanitary sewage spills. The amount of sewage there is still being determined.

News4Jax is still waiting to hear back from the city of Jacksonville Beach about the spills in its area. 

In St. Johns County, 12 lift stations lost power during the storm, and the county had two significant leaks. The utilities in Duval and St. Johns counties are collecting fecal coliform samples in the nearby waterways and neighborhoods to get a true reading of the impact on the environment from the spills.

For more information on JEA sewage spills, go to https://www.jea.com/environment/environmental_incident_reporting.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.