To prevent raw sewage from spilling out into the streets of St. Pete Beach on Monday during Tropical Storm Colin, city officials decided to redirect some of that wastewater directly into the Boca Ciega Bay.
The city officials, including the mayor and the public works director, tell ABC Action News that they believe the wastewater was so diluted by storm-water that dumping it into the Bay had minimal impact. After all, the system was overflowing because so much storm-water had made its way into the sewers.
"We selected to discharge in a controlled manner so we could measure the volumes, measure the contamination, report that to the authorities and at least know what we did," explains Public Works Director Michael Clarke to ABC Action News.
Clarke says the alternative was letting that raw sewage explode out of the manholes into the roads, sidewalks and people's yards. There's also a chance that sewage could have come back up through the toilets in people's homes as well.
In a choice between two bad options, Clarke thinks the city made the better choice.
Still, there was concern by many that the move to directly pollute the Bay made it unsafe to be on the water right now.
To find out, we took a sample from the Boca Ciega Bay on Wednesday, the day after the sewage was poured in, and had Advanced Environmental Laboratories in Tampa test that water.
Two tests were done: one for fecal bacteria, and the other for E. Coli.
The bad news: some E. Coli was present, It's not clear how dangerous the strand is that was found, and it's not clear from the one sample how much E. Coli is in the water.
"You don't want to be swimming or ingesting anything that has E. Coli in it, of course," explains Dale Uvino of Advanced Environmental Labs (AEL). "It's hard to say if it's a dangerous strain but if there's E. Coli there could be other things present," like bacteria or even viruses. Uvino says they don't usually find E. Coli when they test local bodies of water in Florida, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything dangerous.
The good news: very little fecal bacteria was present in the water sample.
"When we test rivers, and ponds, for fecal, it's always very high," says Uvino. Anywhere from "25 to 200 growth colonies" says Uvino. In our sample from the Boca Ciega, there was just one single colony, which means the water is probably not dangerous, and therefore, likely unaffected much by the dumping by St. Pete Beach.
St. Pete Beach is also testing the water thoroughly, but say their results won't come back for another week or two.