Rains cause 1.2 million-gallon overflow at West Palm sewage plant

Updated Oct 31, 2017
Tropical Storm Philippe overwhelmed the capacity of holding tanks at the East Central Regional sewage plant in West Palm Beach. (Julius Whigham / The Palm Beach Post)

Tropical Storm Philippe’s swipe through West Palm Beach on Saturday night brought an early Halloween nightmare, as rain overwhelmed the regional sewage treatment plant off Roebuck Road and sent more than 1.2 million gallons overflowing into a retention pond Sunday.

More than 6 inches of rain flowed into the East Coast Regional Water Reclamation Facility, which treats sewage for West Palm, Palm Beach and Lake Worth. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the plant overloaded and spilled 1,211,760 gallons of treated sewage over its containment chambers and into the pond.

Plant workers chlorinated the mess and cleaned and disinfected the chambers, an initial DEP incident report said.

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Sampling was conducted to make sure fecal bacterial counts were within proper limits, the DEP said.

Officials of West Palm Beach, which runs the plant, said its normal capacity is 70 million gallons per day. Philippe’s rains put the plant at 83 million gallons.

The West Palm and Palm Beach normal average of 20 million gallons rose to 33 million, and Lake Worth contributed 50 million, compared with its normal 42.

The sewage never went over the brim of the retention area, City Commissioner Paula Ryan said. “There were no contaminants, so the system worked.”

However, she added, the incident raised awareness that, with climate change altering normal rain patterns, the city might need to ask itself how to prepare for more such downpours. “That’s what we’re all going to have to ask ourselves in the future,” Ryan said.