CITY EMPLOYEE: “Non-compliant” wastewater pumped from plant flooding Winter Springs BLVD & golf course

If assertions of Winter Springs employee are true, fecal matter likely flowed through golf course, Bear Creek Nature Preserve, Greenbriar Drive and Howell Creek before dumping into Lake Jessup.

By Jesse Phillips
Winter Springs Community Association
Winter Springs Water Quality Initiative

Picture: Winter Springs BLVD near treatment plant, where city employee claims “non-compliant” water was pumped out of plant onto road; fecal matter likely flowing into Lake Jessup.

A Winter Springs Public Works employee reached out to us with grave concerns about a) the lack of preparation for this storm by Veolia, the Flint, Michigan Water Company who is overseeing the management of our water system, and b) a violation of DEP standards, pumping water out of a wastewater plant which flooded onto the street, golf course, nearby creeks and trails and eventually into Lake Jessup.

Here is a summary of the assertions this devoted, brave and concerned Public Works employee has made:

  • A lack of preparation by City Leadership and the Veolia contractor resulted in missed opportunities to increase our water retention capacity ahead of the storm. The plant near Sam Smith park could have handled an additional 5-million gallons if adequate preparations had been made in the weeks leading up to the storm. 
  • A breach occurred in the Water Treatment Plant near Sam Smith Park which resulted in fecal matter leaving the plant. Water from the plant flowed across the Tuscawilla golf course, flooding Greenbriar Drive, reaching all the way to Howell Creek and then flowing north across Northern Way and many subdivisions before dumping into Lake Jessup.
  • Veolia illegally pumped “non-compliant” water into the retention pond near Winter Springs BLVD, which flooded, exposing neighborhoods adjacent to Bear Creek Nature Trail.

Third-party contractors left us unprepared

Under prior commissions, city management personnel largely consisted of dedicated professionals who were also residents of Winter Springs. During past hurricanes such as Charlie, the Public Works Director, who was at that time a long-term Winter Springs resident, had a personal interest and devoted weeks in preparation to prepare our city for a tropical onslaught.

According to a Seminole County news conference yesterday, the city was slow to respond to the water main breaks because they were waiting on an out-of-town contractor to arrive (they were also slow to issue the water boil alert, which is another issue entirely).

In recent years, the water department has been outsourced to companies like Veolia, a company who faced a lawsuit for their involvement in the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Our Water Quality Initiative vehemently opposed this decision, which was symptomatic of a larger leadership crisis. Our current City Manager is not a Winter Springs resident, and the Public Works department has been a revolving door of extra-local hires and hushed departures under Veolia and Manager Boyle, whom our commissioners defiantly patted on the back with a vote of confidence immediately after the state slapped them with a consent order and fines for mismanaging our wastewater system.

As a result of massive turnover in city staff, extra-local hires and ill-equipped contractors imported from places like Flint, Michigan at the helm, we were, to put it mildly, completely unprepared for this storm.

Why didn’t they ask for help from past leaders and staff? They might have been able to increase our pond retention capacity by tens of millions of gallons, if the claims of the city employee are true. 

Commissioners did not invest in preparedness

The lack of preparation is evident by the numbers: 

  • Winter Springs has nearly 50 lift stations and lost more than 30 of them during the storm. Yet, the city only owns 3 mobile generators, which cost under $20,000 each.
  • The city recently allocated $197,000 to hire a marketing agency to put out ads promoting what great shape the city is in.
  • If those marketing dollars had been spent on mobile generators in preparation for a storm, we could have had 13 generators instead of 3.
  • The city did not invest in repair equipment and had to wait for engineers from Longwood to bring in the equipment, delaying response time to water main breaks which caused the boil water advisory.
  • Four bridges will need to be rebuilt with at least 8 more still submerged. In recent years the city has prioritized spending on parks and marketing and neglected repairs and reinforcement of our bridges.

Environmental Damage and Infrastructure Neglect

Mayor McCann said yesterday this mess is going to take months to clean up. He didn’t, however, acknowledge the culpability current leadership has in the mess. Believe it or not, he said the city’s response has been a model for the nation.

This storm comes on the heels of several other environmental catastrophes. 

  • The fish kill incident in the Highlands resulted in a scathing report by the DEP, in which this Veolia company was implicated in dozens of violations of DEP standards and mismanagement. 
  • Veolia was contractually obligated to address issues with our wastewater plants in a contract Commissioner Cannon acknowledged he carefully reviewed.
  • Since that time, hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage and wastewater have continually dumped into our environment (all documented here) seemingly without repercussion to our city leadership.
  • This history of repeated environmental damage resulted in Winter Springs being placed under multiple Consent Orders from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for these violations, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
  • According to DEP documents, as recently as August 29th, while under a Consent Order, a plant dumped another 84,000 gallons of wastewater into the environment illegally.

This is why, for over a year, we have been circulating a petition calling on our city leaders to:

A. Fire Veolia, the Flint Michigan water company, and 
B. Prioritize the necessary repairs to our drinking water system

Instead of ardently defending Veolia and ignoring the problems with our infrastructure we’d attempted to highlight, imagine if Commissioner Cannon and our city leadership had invested and cultivated the best local talent acted upon our request to invest in improvements to our drinking water infrastructure.

If they had done this, we may not have experienced the water main breaks, our response time to those breaks would have been much better, flooding could have been reduced by tens of millions of gallons which may have spared residents the upcoming months of inconvenient bridge repairs

If that had happened, it may not be necessary for brave Public Works employees to reach out to us for help, and Ian may not have blown two gaping holes through our drinking water system which has us as the only city in Seminole County under a boil water alert.

If you agree with these concerns, you may add your voice to sign our petition here:

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