So tell me again what exactly is a lift station and how do they work?

Experts say Hurricane Irma caused chaos for something we rarely talk about


Let’s cut right to the chase and call it what it is: it’s a poop pump. Well, it actually pumps more than poop: a lift station pumps any type of wastewater from residential and commercial facilities to waste processing locations.

And in Florida, they are absolutely essential to our comfort, our health, and our environment.

Lift stations use pumps to move sewage. Pumps work on electricity. Hurricane Irma has knocked out electricity to lots of places. Now do we have you attention?

“They are slowly coming back on line,” said Alan Harris, Seminole County’s emergency management manager. On Tuesday, Harris told the Orlando Sentinel that about 200 of the county’s 342 wastewater lift stations were without power.

“We have generators, mobile generators. We have a plan for moving those mobile generators around the community,” Harris said.

If you’re new to Florida, you might be wondering why we have lift stations. Utilities need lift stations to pump wastewater and sewage over, under and through different terrain. In fact, that’s where they get their name: a lift station “lifts” sewage from Point A to Point B to account for elevation change.

“Gravity alone won’t do it,” said Tom Oakley, of Utilities, Inc. of Florida. Oakley’s company has about 100 lift stations in the region that serve both Seminole and Orange counties.

“We were extremely well-prepared for this with a few minor exceptions,” he added.

Although many of Utilities, Inc. lift stations are still without power, backup generators are online and working and, like Seminole County, the company is rotating portable generators to keep stations (wet-wells) from overflowing with sewage.

“We maintain portable generators for emergency use and brought in additional ones as part of our storm preparation,” Oakley told News 6. “As we continue to assess conditions, we have reported outages to our power providers and have deployed the portable generators as needed in the interim.”

Lift stations aren’t just limited to local governments. Private facilities also have their own on-site pumps to move wastewater out and connect to main lines. Think attractions (Disney, Universal Studios, SeaWorld), universities (UCF, Rollins, College of Central Florida), and large properties (Gaylord Palms, Hyatt Regency, Hilton Orlando). Lift stations are even found in smaller areas like mobile home parks.

“Given the nature of the terrain in most of Florida, you’re going to find that treatment systems use lift stations to move flow along,” Oakley said.

According to Harris, as of Wednesday morning, Seminole County still has more than 50 percent of its homes without electricity. Harris and the county are fighting to keep the lack of electricity from snowballing into a health crisis if local lift stations are overtaxed.

“We’re asking residents whether they live in the county or the city - if they’re serviced by either or a county utility, please use water sparingly,” said John Horan, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Seminole County. “The treatment facilities are trying to regulate a flow that they’re not accustomed to. The less water you use, the better off it’s going to be.”

About the Author:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise