Suncoast Waterkeeper and Co-Plaintiffs Settle City of Bradenton Case
One of the many important highlights along with devoted funds and a plan to stop all future leaks is the commitment of the City to perform $220,000 in oyster restoration in the Manatee River as its Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP). The oyster restoration project is part of our settlement with the City, which for the past five years had illegally bypassed at least 160 million gallons of wastewater away from full treatment before discharging it into the Manatee River. Also during that time frame, the City discharged millions more gallons of reclaimed and raw sewage from its aging sewage system, which is plagued by structural deficiencies.
Wastewater systems and water infrastructure are woefully outdated in too many communities throughout Florida. The historic lack of investment in our infrastructure harms the health of our communities and waterways. This settlement guarantees that the City of Bradenton will make much-needed upgrades to its wastewater and sewage treatment system.
Specifically, the settlement sets firm deadlines for improvements to the City’s sewage treatment plant. The improvements include increasing pumping and treatment capacity and upgrading disinfection capabilities. The City will also have to address issues in the collection system, including assessing the condition of pipes, finding leaks, and ensuring the availability of backup power.
Along with all these changes will be an update to the City’s capacity, management, operation, and maintenance programs for its sewage collection system. This settlement also requires the development of a website that will provide the public with up-to-date information on water quality and incidents. Additionally, Bradenton will be required to invest at least $220,000 in projects to improve local waters and/or estuarine habitats.
The Bradenton settlement is a part of an ongoing effort by Suncoast Waterkeeper to protect waterways through legal action. These Clean Water Act suits have resulted in critical upgrades to sewage and wastewater systems throughout the Tampa and Sarasota Bay estuaries.
Citizen suits are critical for addressing pollution problems that would otherwise be ignored. In Bradenton (and many other Florida cities), government officials have been kicking the can down the road for too long. Clean water is a priority, and in coming to the table to settle, the City of Bradenton has demonstrated that it is willing to prioritize water quality.
Suncoast Waterkeeper (“SCWK”), Our Children’s Earth Foundation (“OCE”), ManaSota-88, and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper (“TBWK”) have filed another Sixty-Day Notice of Violations of Clean Water Act and Notice of Intent to File Suit for serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) by the City of Bradenton, which has repeatedly sent raw and partially treated sewage into the Manatee River, storm drains, streams, neighborhoods, and local waters including Wares Creek, Palma Sola Creek, and Palma Sola Bay which flow into Lower Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
A 60-day notice is the required first step of filing a formal lawsuit in Federal Court. Today’s notice to Bradenton follows successful Clean Water Act municipal sewage enforcement cases resulting in settlements with St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Sarasota County and most recently, Largo. If no resolution is achieved within the 60-day timeframe, litigation will proceed.
According to Bradenton’s own reports, within the last four years, over 160 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Manatee River, bypassing the City’s treatment plant. Most recently, the City bypassed 13 million gallons in August of 2021. The City’s sampling data confirms that its bypasses resulted in high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria in the Manatee River.
Similarly, during that time frame, the City has discharged millions more gallons of raw sewage from their aging sewage collection system, which is plagued by structural deficiencies. The result is excessive infiltration and inflow of stormwater and groundwater during wet weather. This excessive infiltration and inflow has caused and will continue to cause repeated sewage spills that not only contain human waste, but also contain various toxic chemicals from the solvents, detergents, cleansers, inks, pesticides, paints, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals discarded by households and businesses from the City into local waterways.
Unfortunately many of the City's own reports are missing from public records, contributing to a lack of awareness on the part of the public and possibly the City Council and administration. Both the City and the Department of Environmental Protection appear to have failed the public's need and desire for transparency and adequate regulation.
These spills contribute to declining conditions in our region’s waterways. The groups believe the City of Bradenton’s persistent exceedances of its allocation for Total Nitrogen, its repeated bypasses of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage, and its sanitary sewer overflows of raw and partially treated sewage and reclaim water have contributed to seagrass losses and to increased harmful algal blooms or “HABs” in the Tampa and Sarasota Bay Estuaries. The harmful toxins produced as a result of HABs give rise to severe human health consequences, economic and social impacts, as well as harm to the environment.