400,000 gallons of wastewater spill into Hogtown Creek
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 6:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 6:57 p.m.
A broken Gainesville Regional Utilities sewage line has spewed more than 400,000 gallons of wastewater into Hogtown Creek since Friday and sewage is now being diverted into Possum Creek to enable repairs, GRU officials said Saturday night.
About 20,000 customers in Gainesville have been asked to limit the use of toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and other household tasks that require water.
GRU said that city water is safe to drink. Signs have been posted warning people to avoid contact with water from Hogtown and Possum creeks until further notice. GRU said the warning signs will remain in place until samples confirm that water is no longer impacted — which should be within the next 3 to 5 days.
"There was a leak in a force main and we have been trying to make a repair. In order to make that repair, we have to shut off the flow in other spots, so we have other sewage spills going on," said Debbie Daugherty, acting director for water and wastewater engineering. "It was a failure at one of the joints in the pipe. The sewage was leaking into Hogtown Creek."
Alachua County Environmental Health Director Anthony Dennis said the leak is significant and could impact drinking water for some residents.
Dennis said precautionary boil water notices were given in an area south of Southwest 24th Avenue and west of Interstate 75 who are on well water.
The area is near Haile Sink, where Hogtown Creek flows into the ground. The sewage will eventually make its way into the aquifer, Dennis said.
"Obviously people need to avoid contact with surface water. That's a no-brainer," Dennis said. "Downstream at Haile Sink, we have some private wells around that area. We've issued a precautionary boil water notice on wells. We'll be sampling them on Monday."
Daugherty said GRU hopes to have the repair completed by Sunday and has called in outside contractors to help with the job.
The initial problem was a break in a joint in the 36-inch main in a wooded area south of the University Golf Course and just east of 34th Street, Daugherty said. The leak at that point was small.
However, a valve broke on Saturday when the repair was being made, causing a bigger leak.
The lines feeding into the main had to be shut off. To avoid sewage backing up into toilets, GRU diverted it into Possum Creek.
Daugherty said the main pipe is plastic and about nine years old. She said the valve was older.
"When the valve broke, we had a much bigger problem," Daugherty said Saturday night. "We have called in all of our crews and have outside contractors to help us try to fix both of those problems at the same time. I really hope we have resolution on both of these (Saturday) evening."
Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, said the spill is significant but added its impact on the affected ecosystems likely will be lessened because of all the recent rain.
Bird said people had already been advised to stay out of the creeks because the rain tends to flush contaminants into it.
"Hogtown Creek has been really swollen. (A leak) is never a good situation, but you have a lot of water going through it from all of the stormwater," Bird said. "But in this case, this is a catastrophic failure. It's not good, but we've been through so many of these."
In the early to mid-2000s, GRU had several sewage leaks in area creeks. In 2003, about 2.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater spilled into Hogtown Creek.
Bird noted that GRU in recent years has had relatively few leaks.