News Press

Sept. 27, 2017

Heavy rain, not enough generators adds up to sewage on Lee County streets after Irma

By Bill Smith


Fetid, stinking effluent rising from the depths of the Lee County sewer system added health risks and a final olfactory insult to residents who faced property damage, spoiled food, lost wages and disrupted lives after Hurricane Irma swept through Southwest Florida.


In some cases, a contributing factor was the massive power outage in the county. Sewage pumps stopped running. The electricity to 425 of the Lee County Utilities' 680 pump stations was cut, as utility poles were knocked over and tree limbs crashed into transformers and substations.


The county only had 81 generators available, only a few dozen of which were outfitted, including 51 permanently installed at various lift stations. The county has 16 of its own and rented or borrowed another 15.


Most of the pump stations that went dark were in Fort Myers and south Fort Myers. Three stations in the part of Estero served by Lee County lost power, as did two in North Fort Myers. The result was the snags in wastewater traveling through the system.


The problem was not only in Lee County. Collier County Utilities, which serves most of unincorporated Collier County, manages 840 wastewater pump stations. All of them lost power during the storm. But just 10 percent had backup measures in place, said Beth Johnssen, the county’s wastewater director.


More than 500 overflows were reported across the state, dumping at least 84 million gallons of wastewater into roads, homes, parks and waterways.


A Lee County spokeswoman said in a prepared statement the complaints received by the county were mostly about spills rather than smells. Sites were treated with lime after any sewage that remains in the area is removed by a septic pumper truck.


The county would provide only written response on the issue of raw sewage being discharged into neighborhoods. Residents were advised to limit toilet flushing, take shorter showers and stop using the washing machine and dishwasher


Cape Coral experienced its own set of issues with pump stations. Spokeswoman Connie Barron said some 200 lift stations were inoperative at times during the storm.


The city utility rotated 23 portable generators between pumping stations to keep the sewage flowing to the treatment plant. Adding to the build-up of backed-up effluent is rainwater that seeps into the aging pipes in the system. Cape Coral is spending $750,000 per year to reline sewer pipes to keep the rain out of the sewer system, which will add 20-30 years to the lifespan of the pipes.


"It was quite an ordeal for a few days, we'd get calls or complaints saying there was some waste seeping out of the manholes," Barron said.


Available generators were swapped between stations as needed. After a pump station was cleared, generators would be brought to another part of the system to keep the sewage flowing toward the treatment plant.


"It was not something that was unexpected," Barron said. "It's way too expensive to buy generations for every single lift station."


In a report following Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 storm that paralyzed the mid-Atlantic states, the American Water Works Association, a nationwide organizing representing wastewater and water treatment plants nationwide, warned that power outages are "the single greatest factor affecting water sector operations, even in locations with emergency generators."


Streets where sewage pump stations failed due to power lot


Fort Myers and south Fort Myers

Afton Court

Allendale Circle

Bahama Avenue

Bal Isle Drive.

Beaujolais Lane

Bell Tower Park

BrantPoint Circle

Bucknell Drive.

Casa Del Rio Lane

Casa Mar Circle

Cherry Ridge Lane

Colorado Avenuenue

Corinne Lee Ct

Country Oaks Drive.

Crocus Court

Cypress Drive.

Cypress Lake Drive.

Cypress View Drive

Cypress Vista Circle

East Riverside Drive

Eastshore Drive.

Enterprise Pkwy

Greywood Circle

Isle of Palms Drive

Kapok Court

La Casas Driveive

McGregor Woods Circle

Meadowood Court

Montilla Drive.

Nature Pointe Loop

Oakmont Ridge Circle

Ottowa Circle

Parkridge Court

Pine Run Lane

Riviera Avenue

Roundstone Circle

San Antonio Ct.

San Carlos Blvd

Sandelwood Circle

Sandy Cove Drive

Selby Drive.

Shaddelee Lane

Sika Deer Way

South Landings Boulevard

South Pointe Boulevard

Southdale Rd.

Southwind Bay Circle

Tenth St.

Three Oaks Parkway

Town and River Driveive

Twin Palm Drive.

Vesta Lane

Village Edge Circle

Williamson Way

Winkler Rd.

Woodgate Drive.

Woodgate Manor Court

WooDriveose Court



Chapel Trace

Estero Gardens Circle

Larino Loop

Toprre Del Lago Street


North Fort Myers

River Road

Cypress Chase