Sewage line repaired by GRU after leak into local creeks

Workers with GRU spray water onto SW 2nd Ave from a UF golf course maintenance area near SW 34th Street after a sewage spill in the area in Gainesville, Saturday July 27, 2013. The leak in a sewage line was compounded with a malfunction of a valve that caused a large spill of sewage that began Friday morning and was not sealed up until early Saturday evening. The water was to help with washing the sewage down the local creeks.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.

Gainesville Regional Utilities completed repairs to a broken sewage line late Saturday, after officials say more than 400,000 gallons of wastewater were released into the Hogtown and Possum creeks.

The main sewage line was repaired around 9 p.m. Saturday, said GRU senior environmental engineer Tony Cunningham.

The leak was first discovered Friday morning around 9:30 a.m. when a small amount of wastewater was seen on the ground, Cunningham said.

Though the sewage water is no longer spewing into Hogtown or Possum creeks, residents are advised to continue to avoid contact with Hogtown Creek west of 34th Street and south of University Avenue and Possum Creek until further notice.

GRU said Saturday that city water is safe to drink.

About 20,000 customers in Gainesville initially were asked to limit the use of toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and other household tasks that require water.

The Alachua County Health Department issued boil water notices to about 20 customers who have drinking water wells in a small area near Haile Sink, Cunningham said.

"It's a very, very small number of individuals and they were all contacted directly by the Health Department," Cunningham said.

Residents who were previously contacted by the Health Department with boil water notices should continue to boil water or drink bottled water until further notice to avoid ingesting potentially harmful bacteria, according to Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department.

The area is near Haile Sink, where Hogtown Creek flows into the ground. The sewage will eventually make its way into the aquifer, officials said.

Bird said Saturday the effect on local ecosystems could be lessened because of the recent rain.

"It may take several days for it to actually move through the aquifer," he said Sunday.

Details on creek contamination are expected to surface later this week, according to GRU. In the meantime, warning signs will remain posted at Hogtown and Possum creeks until samples show that water is no longer impacted from the spill.

Bird said residents should continue to avoid skin contact with the creeks, especially if the water appears to be murky.

The sewage line began to leak after a joint in the 36-inch main broke south of the University Golf Course and east of 34th Street. The leak was exacerbated when a valve broke during repairs to the 9-year-old main line on Saturday.

GRU cut off lines feeding the main and diverted the sewage stream into Possum Creek to avoid wastewater backing up into toilets during repairs.

Cunningham said GRU is not sure exactly how many gallons of wastewater were released into Hogtown and Possum creeks, but a more accurate estimate is expected later in the week.

"We have identified the leak, we have worked really hard the last couple of days to get to it," Cunningham said.

Cunningham credits GRU employees, regulatory agencies, local contractors and customers who were advised to use less water as key components in the process of repairing the sewage line.

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