Gruters Proposes Sewage Spill Fines

Todays News


Days after the City of Sarasota reported a major sewage spill, the community’s state senator filed a bill to significantly increase penalties for similar incidents in the future.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, on Friday filed new legislation that could increase the penalty to $1 per gallon of untreated sewage spilled into waterways. In lieu of the penalty, the bill allows responsible parties to conduct upgrades and repairs worth $2 per gallon, as approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“It seems every couple months we have a massive raw sewage spill somewhere in the state,” Gruters says, “whether because of a storm or just an accident. But with the known correlation between some nutrients and the increased impact of red tide, we should do everything we can to turn it around.”

The most recent such spill happened in Gruters’ own district. Sarasota on Dec. 20 reported a 900,000-gallon spill that entered Sarasota Bay near Centennial Park. 

City spokesman Jason Bartolone said the spill originated at a public utilities campus on 12th Street when a 48-inch diameter pipe ruptured during a rainstorm.

The Florida Department of Health issued a health advisory that water briefly posed a danger to humans. The advisory lifted on Dec. 26, when water samples showed the water was once again safe. That came after the city and health department took a number of steps to sanitize the region and mitigate health risks.

The spill occurred after red tide concerns subsided; state officials also just announced there are no detectable algal blooms remaining in state waters.

But Gruters and other politicians testify that on the campaign trail this year, no issue arose more than the health and commercial risks tied to the historic red tide bloom that impacted the coast this year.

Gruters’ bill, if passed in its current form, would mean a greater financial cost to the city should a similar spill to the one this month occur again. The law would call for a $900,000 fine, or for proof of $1.8 million in preventative improvements to the city sewer system. The goal, he says, will be improved water quality, not vindictive punishment.

“This law holds governments who dump raw sewage into our waterways accountable with fines, but also gives them an option out if they fix their pollution problems,” Gruters says. “Sarasota County residents and all Floridians deserve the strongest reasonable protections." 

Photo: Sarasota Bay

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