POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has fined Haines City $75,000 after a major wastewater spill into one of its lakes.

James Keene was promoted to Public Infrastructure Director in February of 2020, but he admits the issue with wastewater spills in the city dates back before his time.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection fines Haines City $75,000 for spill into lake

  • Infrastructure Director acknowledges fine; adds wastewater spills issue has been ongoing

  • Fine based on amount of sewage spilled, which happened due to eroded pipes

"We had utility works, storm water operators, the Haines City police—even people from Davenport were here at Lake Eva to assist us," Keene said. "The water as of last week is still testing safe."

"City commissioners did add additional money to the budget to make necessary changes in our infrastructure."

In May of this year, reports show just over a million gallons of sewage water spilled into Lake Eva after a lift station malfunctioned. After a week of searching for the leak, Keene said utility workers found eroded pipes from 1927.

Keene said the penalty amount for the spill was based on how much sewage water spilled over.

"We’ve had a 20-gallon overflow at a lift station that only touched the grass; no storm drains and the penalty was $1,000,” said Keene. “It goes based on the gallons of waters that escape the system. This one being 75,000 was the quantity."

The city is now working with the Department of Environmental Protection to fix other infrastructures throughout the city.

The DEP sent this statement:

“Protecting Florida's environment and the health and safety of our residents and visitors is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) top priority, and we take every unauthorized discharge seriously. 

For background, the DEP has been engaged in ongoing enforcement with Haines City for several years regarding the chronic wastewater discharges by its wastewater treatment plant. DEP first executed a consent order with the city in August 2018 and has since issued subsequent amendments. These orders required the city to make modifications to the facility and its effluent disposal and collection systems and acquiring additional land for treated wastewater disposal. DEP also assesses stipulated penalties for unauthorized discharges while these critical infrastructure upgrades are being implemented. You can learn more about this in the consent order here

DEP has been conducting regular inspections and file reviews to assess the progress of outstanding violations and/or deficiencies in accordance with the requirements of the orders. While the city has prioritized some of the required upgrades, such as making necessary upgrades to lift station pumps and replacing sewer lines, the plant continues to experience untreated wastewater spills, such as the more than 1-million-gallon spill you originally inquired. DEP recently issued a permit modification to address the capacity issues at this plant and under the second amended consent order, the city has until December 2022 to implement the design modifications.

Regarding that spill, on May 10, 2022, per permit stipulations, Haines City notified DEP of an ongoing unauthorized discharge of untreated wastewater after a Lift Station on Eighth Street malfunctioned. Further investigation revealed that of approximately 1.13 million gallons of untreated wastewater had discharged, with approximately 58,000 gallons being recovered. You can access Haines City’s report of this incident here

Because the spill impacted Lake Eva, water sampling at multiple points within the lake was required. Haines City conducted sampling until June 1, 2022, when the data indicated that bacteria levels had returned to pre-spill conditions. Additionally, signs were placed around the lake closing it to swimming and fishing until that time. 

In the event of a discharge, our response is threefold: (1) work with the facility or contractor to identify any releases and ensure the release is stopped and remediated as quickly as possible; (2) gather and analyze information surrounding the circumstances of the reported incident to evaluate it from a regulatory perspective to determine if there were any violations; and (3) identify any further corrective actions needed, including solutions to avoid future discharges and possible enforcement. 

At this time, DEP's regulatory review and investigation into this spill is ongoing, including a review of the reporting requirements stipulated in the orders. However, I can share that DEP is assessing the city $75,000 for this spill. Additional fines and penalties may be part of this regulatory review. I am happy to share additional information as we progress through this enforcement process and future agency actions. 

DEP also continues to ensure the city is making progress on the short and long-term corrective actions necessary to cease the untreated wastewater spills at its facility, as outlined by the amended orders. DEP is working with the city through the State Revolving Loan Fund to ensure its wastewater infrastructure, including its lift stations, are operational to meet the service needs of the community and protective of the environment and public health and safety. However, fulfillment of this legal obligation does not absolve the city of its previous violations and possible contributions to water quality degradation in the region, and DEP remains committed to holding them accountable for these obligations as well.”