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Port Richey conducts 'smoke testing' to find problem spots in sewer system following I-Team report

Posted at 10:40 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 17:46:11-05

PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Calls for change in Port Richey were heard at City Hall after neighbors, who felt ignored, contacted the I-Team, worried about sewage spilling into the streets, backing up into their bathtubs, and flowing into the nearby Cotee River. 

Since the I-Team’s report, Port Richey, with the help of the Florida Rural Water Association, has conducted smoke testing in the sewer system. 

RELATED: Port Richey neighbors fed up with ongoing sewage spills

“What they’re actually doing is putting a non-toxic smoke into the sewer system and then looking for smoke to come out of the ground, come out of broken pipes,” City Manager John Dudte said. “So once we find those leaks, then we have the ability to make a map and figure out a plan to go back and repair what we’ve found.” 


Dudte, who took over as City Manager in January, said he doesn’t know that the city has ever done this kind of testing. 

“I’ve asked staff that have been here a long time, they can’t recall ever doing this in the past,” he said. 

In a situation where the city was flying blind, the results, showing what’s going on underground, are eye-opening. 

“They’re finding quite a few issues that we need to deal with,” Dudte told the I-Team. “This is a high priority for the city council, for the mayor, and thus for the city staff.” 


At the Oct. 26 Port Richey City Council meeting, Dudte talked about the community’s complaints brought to both the city and then ABC Action News. 

Captain Bob Hubbard, owner of Island Paradise Charters, contacted the I-Team after telling city officials for two years about the problem of sewage overflowing into the streets and Cotee River, where he lives and works.

“We’re frustrated and we’re tired of it,” Hubbard said. 


At the same October meeting, City Council Member Tom Kinsella said he heard from people in the community that the lift station on Chapel Avenue was not the only problem spot. 

“I’d like to see us address this more often, see what we can do and clean up our city,” he said. 

Dudte explained that the sewer system should be a closed system — but that’s not what’s happening. 

“The challenge for us is that any rainwater that goes into our sewer system then has to go through the treatment process. And there’s no need to treat stormwater in a sewer system,” Dudte said, adding that sewage treatment costs taxpayers. “If we’re putting rainwater into that, that’s more cost for the people of Port Richey.” 

The city is still awaiting a final report from the Florida Rural Water Association, but Dudte said preliminary numbers based on city staff’s participation in the testing indicate around 25 leaks and open clean-out pipes were found on private property. Roughly 10 more were found on the public side of the sewer system.


“We’re actively working on repairing public side problems. We will be sending letters to private property owners to advise them of our finding,” Dudte said, adding that the city plans to continue smoke testing in other parts of the city. 

This story started with a tip. If you have something you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email or call 1-866-428-NEWS.