Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Carmel on the Case: What Lies Beneath?
Maybe you've heard the stories about alligators living in the sewers but never believed it. Well, we've got the pictures to prove it's really happening. South Florida's aging sewer system is the focus of Carmel Cafiero's special assignment report, What Lies Beneath.
WSVN -- How would you feel knowing this is under your house. Animals like racoons, snakes, even alligators snapping away can be found crawling in pipes under homes in South Florida.
Vincente Arrevola: "It becomes a very nice place -- warm and dark with water, with food for animals, for insects, for all sorts of creatures."
And how are they getting in?
Tom Rooney: "The sewer systems are just absolutely falling apart."
Tom Rooney's company repairs and replaces sewer pipes. He says most of the pipes under our feet are fifty years old or more and past their prime. They are cracking, breaking and leaking, and that lets the critters come in.
Tom Rooney: "Alligators, raccoons, snakes everywhere, rats -- it's a different, it's an underground world that exists, and it's just in horrible shape."
Because the pipes are in such bad shape, rainwater is also getting in and flooding the sewers.
Vicente Arrevola: "Yes, when those lines get full, those critters that inhabit search for dry land, and they will come out, whichever way they can, and that may be in people's toilets."
But this isn't just a story about creepy animals in toilets. Contaiminated sewage can also bubble up to the surface.
Tom Rooney: "You get sewer backups everywhere."
And that can make you sick.
Tom Rooney: "So everything from small-scale sicknesses, like the flu, to large-scale problems, like death, are directly attributable to not handling sewage correctly."
Miami-Dade county has gotten in trouble with the federal government for not handling sewage correctly.
Vicente Arrevola: Back in 1993, the county had to enter into a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in part because of excessive flows in our sewer system."
But Miami-Dade isn't the only county with challenges. Between Dade and Broward, the costs to repair broken and deteriorating sewer pipes are through the roof.
Alan Garcia: "We've spent over $100 million on actual sewer replacement in the last ten years."
Despite all that money being spent, sewer water is still backing up during heavy rainstorms, and those backups have only a few places to go: people's homes, the land around people's homes and the ocean.
Tom Rooney: "Then we turn right around, and we swim in it, we fish in it, and, I hate to say, we sometimes even drink it, unintentionally, and we make ourselves sick -- very sick."
Experts tells us that until the breaks and cracks are fixed, there's no telling what lies beneath.
But by far the bigger danger is what we can't see -- the germs carried in the contamination -- which is often not more than a flush away.