Suncoast sewage infrastructure needs improvements

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SARASOTA, FL---  The city of Sarasota's sewer system took center stage at Monday's commission meeting.  The board approving a more than $600,000 contract to repair aging sewer pipes.  Its all part of an ongoing effort to replace a systems, many says is vulnerable to massive spills.

"A brown liquid was going into the bay and when you saw it on top of the bayou it looked like floating vomit", said Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman.  Chapman is referring to the massive sewer spill that occurred back in 2005. 

"Millions of gallons of raw sewage went into the storm water system some of it floated down the street and into our storm drain some of it floated directly from a broken pipe," Chapman added.

She went on to say the raw sewage from that spill eventually made its way into the bay.  And while most spills aren't that extensive, Chapman says they occur frequently.  "We have sewage spills all the time, some time they discharge into homes, sometimes they discharge in the street, sometimes they discharge into our waterway."

But the City of Sarasota isn't alone between Venice, Sarasota County and the city territory there have been 43 sewage spills since January and 534 since 2009.  And officials say an aging infrastructure is to blame. 

"The waste water system just deteriorate over time. You usually get about 50 years life out of the system and we've approached that and even past that on some of our parts.  So we have to go back in and replace pipe lines, make lift stations upgrade, improvements to the treatment plants, those types of major capital investments," said Mitt Tidwell from the city of Sarasota.

Some parts of both Sarasota city and county systems were constructed back in 50's.  In Venice some of their facilitates dates back to the 20's.  Which is why officials say improvements are necessary to prevent more massive spills and potential health hazards.

"What was floating was partially sewage from the hospital, so you think sick people, drugs and all kids of things was in that water." said Chapman.

The City of Sarasota will spend more than $100 million over the next 10 years to upgrade their system and Sarasota county will spend $22 million this year alone.