By Carey Codd

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The city of Fort Lauderdale confirmed Monday that the recent sewer main break in George English Park led to nearly 80 million gallons of raw sewage flowing into the lake at the park. That brings the total of raw sewage into city waters from the recent sewer main breaks in Fort Lauderdale to a staggering 201 million gallons.

The lake at George English Park and the boat ramp at the park remain closed due to contaminated water. Aerators are running in the lake to try to increase oxygen levels in the water and reduce odors and despite signs and caution tape CBS 4 cameras spotted two people on a boat in the lake on Monday evening.

The situation frustrates Capt. Mitchel Vitale, who usually brings his charters into George English Park. He believes the efforts by the city to clean the lake and the surroundings meager at best.

“I’m glad they’re doing something but it doesn’t seem like much,” Vitale said.

But city leaders say there is work being done. Besides the aerators they’ve collected debris and tried to control the spread of the debris in the water. Plus, the city says the natural flow of the water helps disperse the bacteria.

“There’s very good flushing of the area to deal with any type of discharge like in the city in the last few months,” said Dr. Nancy Gassman, Assistant Public Works Director.

But Vitale said nature cannot do it all.

“Government should be taking care of its mess, not letting nature take care of it,” he said. “If we didn’t live by the water, where would they be putting that sewage? They’d be containing it and taking it somewhere else not just abusing our waterways and letting nature takes its course.”

There have been seven sewer main breaks in the city since mid-December, pumping more than 200 million gallons of raw sewage into waterways. Dr. Robert Smith, a microbiologist at Nova Southeastern University, called the situation “unprecedented.”

He said the concern to public health is the main priority.

“There are a lot of things in that sewage that can affect people,” he said. “Everything from bacteria, to viruses, parasitic worms and other microorganisms. The main thing you want to do is avoid contact with it.”

Local fisherman and boat captains say they’re seen some dead fish and wildlife in the areas where the raw sewage spills occurred.

Smith said that’s likely.

“If you have a lot of bacteria that are soaking up the oxygen that’s found in the water, that can have a impact on anything breathes oxygen in that water, including fish,” he said. “So the bacteria are stealing oxygen and the fish are gonna have trouble breathing.”

Residents and boaters are worried about the long term impacts on wildlife and the broader ecosystem, impacts of which are unknown at this time. Dr. Smith said the raw sewage is usually filtered out of the area in a matter of a few weeks but with repeated sewer main breaks that means the bacteria keeps getting reintroduced to the waterways.

The city says they’ve hired a contractor to study the impact in the Tarpon River.

“We’re currently working with an environmental consultant to understand the extent of where solids were distributed so we can do debris removal in the coming months,” Gassman said.

City officials are doing water testing in the lake at George English Park and surrounding areas every day and they have not yet met acceptable levels. That’s why the city is still reminding people not to engage in recreational water activities in this area and some of the surrounding waterways.

Long term, the city of Fort Lauderdale has already begun work to install seven and a half miles of new sewer pipe in the city but that will take 12 to 16 months and cost tens of millions of dollars.

Carey Codd

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