By Carey Codd

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – As night fell Tuesday, more and more sewage poured onto Ponce De Leon Drive in the upscale Rio Vista neighborhood creating a mess.

It was quite a contrast to the meticulous holiday decorations on display.

Fort Lauderdale city leaders say it’s the result of a broken 54 inch sewer main that ruptured earlier Tuesday.

Maggie Smith, a resident, described the smell as “undesirable.”

People tried to avoid walking in it. Others moved trash cans and cars out of the way. And everyone dealt with the odor.

Many were concerned about the impact of the sewage water draining into the Tarpon River behind some of the homes in the neighborhood. The Tarpon River flows into the New River.

“All this raw sewage going down the drain at Ponce and 9th is going right out into the Tarpon River,” said Strawn French.

Mayor Dean Trantalis told CBS4 News that by nightfall workers had no choice but to pump the sewage water directly from the street and into the Tarpon River.

“We tried to capture as much of the sewage water with our pump trucks but to the extent that’s not possible, unfortunately, it’s gonna go into the water system,” Trantalis said.

The city of Fort Lauderdale put out an advisory telling people from Federal Highway to Cordova Road to avoid contact with water on the ground. The city is also advising people thinking about recreational water activities in the yellow area along the Tarpon River, New River and some of the waterways to the east.

Ben Sorenson is the city commissioner for the Rio Vista area. He said for years Fort Lauderdale city leaders took money from sewer and stormwater fees and used it in the general fund rather than on infrastructure improvements. He said the new city leaders are changing that.

“We’re gonna keep it in the sewer and stormwater and water treatment fund and reinvest that money back into the system so that we replace aging infrastructure and replace aging pipes,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson said it will be costly — likely more than $1 billion. He said the city plans to invest $200 million dollars on the project every five years.

“This was avoidable if we had started to invested a lot more money into infrastructure at an earlier point,” he said. “That hasn’t happened buts we’re course correcting.”

That course correction is already underway, he said.

“We’re identifying older pipes, the weaker pipes, we’re replacing them,” Sorenson said. “We’re mapping the entire system, which has never been done before. And we’re strategically assessing and improving our system.”

The city is asking people to limit their water use in the area. We’re told they plan to work through the night to try and clean the mess, locate the break and clamp it or create a bypass. City leaders say this does not affect the city’s drinking water.

There is a hotline number for people to call: (954) 828-8000.

Carey Codd

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