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Thousands of gallons of wastewater spill into the Hillsborough River

The spill happened from 3-4 miles upstream from the city of Tampa's dam and drinking water reservoir on the Hillsborough River.

The massive wastewater spill on the Hillsborough River was caused by the power being shut off to the sewage lift station of an apartment complex.

A massive wastewater spill upriver took place just upriver from the city of Tampa's drinking water reservoir in January. But environmental officials say it apparently did not do any permanent damage.

An estimated 630,000 gallons of raw sewage overflowed into the Hillsborough River over one week. This happened after an electric bill to an apartment complex wasn't paid on time and TECO unknowingly cut the power to a sewage lift station.

Sam Elrabi, director of the water division for the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission, said the spill happened three to four miles upstream from the reservoir where the city of Tampa gets its drinking water.

Elrabi believes there was enough dilution from the river so no harm was done to the drinking water supply.

"We're not absolving the apartment complex. An impact certainly happened, whether we could gauge it or not," Elrabi said. "But our samples on that same day — we did the sample upstream and downstream, the numbers were comparable. And we believe that dilution was the biggest factor in saving the day."

Elrabi said the commission will likely propose a settlement to the apartment complex's owners.

"Our ecosystem in this area is very fragile. We try to keep it clean," Elrabi said. "We try to keep pollutants away from it. Every now and then, something like this happens. It wrenches your heart and it's difficult to deal with."

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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