City of Winter Springs facing potential fines over water plant sewage leaks, fish kill

WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. — Residents in one Winter Springs neighborhood are sounding the alarm over the company hired to handle the city’s water utility.

Winter Springs hired the company, Veolia, in 2019. Since then, there have been multiple incidents involving sewage discharge, as well as a fish kill reported in January.

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Eyewitness news has learned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now considering punitive actions for the city in response, which could include fines.

The January fish kill at a pond in the Lake Highlands area earned the city a warning from the DEP.

According to the warning letter, between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into the pond from the city’s West Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The city said the release was caused by a valve malfunction, which has since been repaired.

However, since then, state inspectors have found several more non-compliance issues at the plant.

Inspectors say abnormal events at the facility were reported late, or not at all as required by DEP.

Numerous reporting and transcription errors were also noted through the Discharge Monitoring Report review period.

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Inspectors also noted that fecal coliform was not reported at the required frequency, excessive odors were noted outside the boundaries of the facility at the time of inspection, and operations and maintenance logbook entries were inconsistent, vague, and did not provide clarity.

Winter Springs resident Jesse Phillips formed a group called the Winter Springs Water Quality Initiative, which has been keeping track of the issues with the water and wastewater, and closely monitoring Veolia’s work.

“We’re trying to sound the alarm and say hey, these standards are here for a reason,” Phillips says. “We got 400 people to sign a petition to say hey, let’s fire this company. They won’t do it. They have dug in their heels.”

Since Veolia took over in 2019, Winter Springs has had repeated issues with wastewater discharge at both of their plants, according to DEP’s website.

The City of Winter Springs hasn’t responded to requests for comment, but Veolia released a statement describing the situation as “complicated but unavoidable.”

“The plant is old and in need of significant repairs, which they are in the process of completing,” the statement goes on to say. “Despite the challenges, the plant is functioning properly and demonstrating improved performance.”

DEP says they’re pursuing formal enforcement for the January fish kill and will be issuing a consent order to the city to address any corrective actions.

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The consent order will also outline assessed penalties and future stipulated penalties the facility could face as a result of any future unauthorized sewage discharges.

Veolia says they’re working with the city and DEP to review the situation and understand what went wrong.

Jeff Levkulich, WFTV.com

Jeff Levkulich joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in June 2015.