Local 10 News, Is Miami’s beach water filled with poop? Volunteer testing proves it’s so

Scott Stripling is a volunteer for the Miami Surfrider Foundation, an environmental non-profit group established by surfers who want to protect oceans and beaches.

“I love the outdoors. I love the environment,” Stripling said. “When I started surfing, that just blew my whole world. I love the ocean.”

Stripling is one of 25 volunteers in Miami-Dade County. Every week, he takes samples from oceans and beaches to check for the presence of Enterococci, a fecal indicator bacteria in the water that is extremely harmful if swallowed, or if it makes contact with open skin wound.

Enterococci bacteria, like those shown here, can be resistant to common antibiotics, making infections difficult to treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Enterococci bacteria, like those shown here, can be resistant to common antibiotics, making infections difficult to treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“I walk out into about waist-deep water, collect the sample, cinch it up [and] then deliver it to a lab,” Stripling said.

Seth Bloomgarden, the chairman of the Miami Surfrider Foundation, which was chartered in 1997, said polluted water is making swimmers sick.

“No one is letting them know what’s happening out there,” Bloomgarden said.

Courtesy of UMD
Courtesy of UMD

Volunteers said the fecal indicator is showing up more and more. Records show there has been an average of 25 beach advisories a year in Miami-Dade County since 2017. The count last year was 39.

“Twenty percent of the Thursdays you come to the beach, it could be contaminated with this fecal bacteria,” Stripling said. “We have a major problem we need to resolve.”

The causes

Old pipes are breaking in Miami-Dade’s aging sewer system and spilling millions of gallons of raw sewage into our backyard. There was one this week, and there were four in the past six months near Oleta River State Park. At least one was from a pipe that the county should have replaced years ago.

Bloomgarden said he has been keeping score.

“We are seeing it happen on a regular basis,” Bloomgarden said. “Our beaches are filled with poop. This is a recipe for disaster.”

In 2019, the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department reported 108 sewer-line breaks; mishaps during construction projects were to blame for 29 of them. The consequence: More than five million gallons of waster water spilled.

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Kelly Cox, general council for Miami Waterkeeper, a watchdog non-profit that advocates for protecting South Florida’s waterways, said that the problem has been ongoing for decades.

“The spills are inevitable and when they do occur we can see … spikes in that fecal indicator bacteria level in our nearshore levels,” Cox said.

The pollution doesn’t just come from sewer leaks. Leaking septic tanks, fertilizer runoffs, climate change and the massive amounts of seaweed and sargassum are also creating the perfect storm for this bacteria to thrive.

“Sewage spills are not only to blame for this but they are certainly a critical piece of the puzzle,” Cox said.

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Environmentalists aren’t the only ones sounding the alarm. In August, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office released a stinging 33-page grand jury report with a dire warning to local leaders and elected officials about Biscayne Bay, a crown jewel that is in a very precarious state.

“Biscayne Bay is at a tipping point,” the report says. “Without corrective action, the declining quality of this body of water may become irreversible.”

Daniella Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade County Commissioner who represents District 8, is very concerned about the report’s findings.

“It’s our tourism, it’s our economy, it’s our lifeline,” Levine Cava said. “Just imagine South Florida without clean water! It cannot exist.”

Levine Cava sits on the county’s infrastructure and capital improvements committee and has been fighting to protect our environment.

“We are not moving with enough urgency,” Levine Cava said. “Everything that you are talking about right now tells us that our bay or ocean, our economy, our health is at risk.”

Making repairs

The Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department is under the gun. The number of breaks has actually decreased.

“We’re working tirelessly to decrease the impact to our community and our environment,” said Jennifer Messemer-Skold, a spokeswoman for the department.

After being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012, the department reported it is now halfway done complying with a federally mandated $1.8 billion plan to upgrade the county’s pipes and it is also investing millions more to upgrade the whole system.

Messmer-Skold said the department made 988 proactive repairs to its water lines to avoid water main breaks. Despite the precautionary measures, water main breaks still happen, and they’re not always addressed right away.

In 2017, there was a massive leak just a mile off Fisher Island. It came from one of two massive ocean outfall pipes from the Central District plant in Virginia Key that every day pumps 143 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean. It had been leaking for over a year before it was fixed.

There has been no evidence to shows the outflow is causing the beach contamination. Still, the state of Florida has now banned this practice. By 2025, all Florida counties must stop the daily pumping of wastewater into the ocean.

Collecting data

About a day after Surfrider volunteers took samples from 10 Miami-Dade County beaches, a laboratory director helped Stripling to record the week’s results.

“Cells that light up in this infrared, the light blue, are positive cells that have live fecal bacteria,” Stripling said about the results of examining a water sample from Crandon Park in Virginia Key. “These are all positive cells and this is going to be a high level of bacteria contamination.”

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(Associated Press)

The testing showed only one beach had a high concentration of bacteria. Environmentalists haven’t lost hope. Right now Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department must, by law, disclose when there is a major spillage and issue no swim advisories for bodies of water affected.

There are no public advisories for beaches that test positive for fecal indicator bacteria. The Florida Department of Health tests area beaches on Monday and Surfrider activists test on Thursdays. Miami Waterkeeper activists test all other recreational bodies of water.

“If we take this on from multiple fronts, we can save Biscayne Bay,” Cox said.

View the original article here.

South Dade News Leader, Commissioner Levine Cava working towards better and faster water testing for contamination of Bay and Beaches

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners on Feb. 4 passed legislation to help improve water testing for contamination of our Bay and Beaches.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava sponsored the item with the intent to better inform the public, with greater precision and with quicker feedback, when our waterways and beaches are unsafe due to fecal contamination.

The resolution directs the County to investigate alternative water testing methods that could produce faster results for fecal indicator bacteria. The legislation also requests that the County engage in the use of DNA screening technology to identify the source of the bacteria – be it wildlife, domestic pets, or human origin – and report the results of the County’s experience to the Board.

The resolution, in line with the County’s Open Data Policy championed by Commissioner Levine Cava, also establishes County requirements to make the volumes of water quality data collected over decades easily available to the public and to researchers. And finally, the legislation urges the State Department of Health – the Agency tasked with monitoring our beaches for contamination – to also embrace DNA and other testing methods to better pinpoint the cause of contamination and publish water testing results online for public access.

“The County needs to take the lead in the use of advanced technologies that will help identify the sources and trace the causes of pollution in our Bay,” said Commissioner Levine Cava. “We need to make sure the public is informed as quickly as possible, and then find and fix the problems. By doing these things and by being open and transparent with all of the data we have available, my hope is that we will be able to find solutions to reverse the downward trend for Biscayne Bay and further protect our economy from the shocks caused by beach closures.”

While the Florida Department of Health is responsible for testing marine beach waters for the presence of fecal bacteria, the County conducts testing of

Biscayne Bay, canals and other bodies of water.

The State tests beach waters once per week, and it can take two days before they issue a swimming advisory for a particular site.

View the original article here.

Caribbean Today, Calls for Legal Options to Hold Chemical Companies Responsible for PFAAS and Protecting Miami-Dade’s Drinking Water

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners today (Feb. 4) passed legislation directing the County Attorney to evaluate legal options to bring claims against manufacturers of certain chemicals known as PFAS, which are pervasive in our environment and were used in common household products and industrial fire suppressants.

water drink

The legislation, sponsored by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, addresses the legal issues surrounding polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The resolution directs the County to evaluate the viability of legal claims against the manufacturers of PFAS, and to assess whether the County should engage in litigation against the manufacturers of such substances and other possible parties to recover costs and other damages associated with the chemical.

Recent news reports have raised concern about the presence of PFAS in tests conducted by the County and independent groups. Commissioner Levine Cava also called on the Mayor to provide a report to the public detailing the extensive testing done to date by the County’s Environmental Division and Water and Sewer Department with enough detail to fully explain where these chemicals have been found and what has been done to ensure that our drinking water remains safe.

“These chemicals found in common household products for decades are unfortunately ubiquitous in the environment throughout our country, and Miami-Dade is no exception,” said Commissioner Levine Cava. “The continued safety of our water supply and transparency with the public is paramount and requires immediate attention and action. It is also critical to hold the companies accountable for their pollution, so the burden does not fall entirely on the public to fix it.”

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners today (Feb. 4) passed legislation directing the County Attorney to evaluate legal options to bring claims against manufacturers of certain chemicals known as PFAS, which are pervasive in our environment and were used in common household products and industrial fire suppressants.

water drinkThe legislation, sponsored by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, addresses the legal issues surrounding polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The resolution directs the County to evaluate the viability of legal claims against the manufacturers of PFAS, and to assess whether the County should engage in litigation against the manufacturers of such substances and other possible parties to recover costs and other damages associated with the chemical.

Recent news reports have raised concern about the presence of PFAS in tests conducted by the County and independent groups. Commissioner Levine Cava also called on the Mayor to provide a report to the public detailing the extensive testing done to date by the County’s Environmental Division and Water and Sewer Department with enough detail to fully explain where these chemicals have been found and what has been done to ensure that our drinking water remains safe.

“These chemicals found in common household products for decades are unfortunately ubiquitous in the environment throughout our country, and Miami-Dade is no exception,” said Commissioner Levine Cava. “The continued safety of our water supply and transparency with the public is paramount and requires immediate attention and action. It is also critical to hold the companies accountable for their pollution, so the burden does not fall entirely on the public to fix it.”

View the original article here.

Miami Herald, Letter to the Editor: Smart planning for the county’s future

On Thursday, the Miami-Dade commissioners will take up a number of issues critical to the future of our county.

Our planning staff has presented recommendations designed to strengthen the county’s development plan by bolstering policies curtailing traffic-inducing urban sprawl and redirecting energy and resources away from farmland and climate and storm-vulnerable wetlands. Agriculture remains a vibrant and critically important industry in our community, and with the inclusion of market-based Transfer of Development Rights incentives into our Master Plan, our ever-resilient and resourceful growers will have another tool to help them persevere.

New proposed policies also solidify our commitment to confronting the impacts of climate change and double-down on our goal to put Miami-Dade on a clean, renewable-energy course. Miami-Dade faces a challenging future as we confront climate change and this reinforces the need to accelerate Everglades Restoration. Simultaneously we must do all we can as a county to support and improve restoration success, not impede projects.

I recently participated in discussions with the leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Interior, the South Florida Water Management District, Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, and key environmental organizations on renewed efforts to advance critical Biscayne Bay restoration projects. The good news is that all of the partners involved are actively engaged and working hard to accelerate these key projects — and long dormant components of

Everglades Restoration, like the Bird Drive Basin and the second phases of both C-111 canal and Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands are now being advanced.

An important effort to protect critical Everglades project areas has been put forward by state Rep. Bryan Avila and co-sponsored by Vance Aloupis through HB 775, as it will serve to bring back the Everglades as an area of critical state concern, requiring greater state oversight and protect against development that would impede Everglades restoration.

I pledged to do everything I can to make sure Miami-Dade is an active and effective partner in these efforts. After all, it is our home, our water, our environment.

Daniella Levine Cava

District 8 Commissioner

View the original article here.

Caribbean Today, The Everglades Coalition honors Commissioner Levine Cava with prestigious Public Service Award

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners today (Feb. 4) passed legislation to help improve water testing for contamination of our Bay and Beaches.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava sponsored the item with the intent to better inform the public, with greater precision and with quicker feedback, when our waterways and beaches are unsafe due to fecal contamination.

The resolution directs the County to investigate alternative water testing methods that could produce faster results for fecal indicator bacteria. The legislation also requests that the County engage in the use of DNA screening technology to identify the source of the bacteria – be it wildlife, domestic pets, or human origin – and report the results of the County’s experience to the Board. 

The resolution, in line with the County’s Open Data Policy championed by Commissioner Levine Cava, also establishes County requirements to make the volumes of water quality data collected over decades easily available to the public and to researchers. And finally, the legislation urges the State Department of Health – the Agency tasked with monitoring our beaches for contamination – to also embrace DNA and other testing methods to better pinpoint the cause of contamination and publish water testing results online for public access.

“The County needs to take the lead in the use of advanced technologies that will help identify the sources and trace the causes of pollution in our Bay,” said Commissioner Levine Cava. “We need to make sure the public is informed as quickly as possible, and then find and fix the problems. By doing these things and by being open and transparent with all of the data we have available, my hope is that we will be able to find solutions to reverse the downward trend for Biscayne Bay and further protect our economy from the shocks caused by beach closures.”

While the Florida Department of Health is responsible for testing marine beach waters for the presence of fecal bacteria, the County conducts testing of Biscayne Bay, canals and other bodies of water. The State tests beach waters once per week, and it can take two days before they issue a swimming advisory for a particular site.

View the original article here.

The Miami Hurricane, Local politicians discuss the future of Miami-Dade at climate town hall

Monday, Nov. 18, County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez led a discussion on the climate change crisis impacting South Florida. The event came just two months after Miami-Dade’s youth assembled at City Hall to protest the inaction of Floridian politicians in addressing climate change.

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Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez discuss South Florida’s current plans to address the climate crisis during a town hall meeting on Monday. Photo credit: Leena Yumeen

Community members gathered at the YMCA in Overtown to hear the future plans of their elected officials as well as voice their own concerns as constituents.

“Climate change is an existential threat, [and] I don’t see the political will from our leaders,” said Gilbert Placeres, an attendee and active member of Engage Miami, an organization that empowers youth in Miami to vote.

It was just this sentiment that Levine Cava and Rodriguez sought to address.

“This is the critical issue of our time. It is truly an existential threat, and we need to address this boldly, and we need to act now,” said Commissioner Cava.

The commissioner went on to discuss a lengthy track record of legislation passed under her administration to combat the climate crisis and its impacts. The Miami-Dade County Commission has worked to deter chemical dumping in water streams, abolish styrofoam in parks, open recycling opportunities at docks and ban fracking in the county.

Yet, both the audience and leading politicians acknowledged that this wasn’t enough.

“Why aren’t we the leaders in the green economy? Why aren’t we at the forefront of solar?” asked the commissioner. While states such as Texas are at 20 percent renewable energy, Florida, the “sunshine state,” lags behind at 3 percent.

This past August, Rodriguez and Orlando Representative Anna Eskamani refiled a previously rejected bill that would set a state goal to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The bill will be voted on by the Florida Legislature this coming January.

Such movement toward a statewide green transformation could also have much larger implications.

A “green job” refers to any occupation in a sector that promotes sustainability and environmental restoration, such as energy consulting or water quality management. In theory, the creation of such jobs could bolster the economy, boost the income and living-quality of Miami-Dade residents and tackle climate change in one sweep.

The senator also discussed two upcoming bills that would propel Florida into climate change action at the state level. The first involves the creation of a sea-level impact projection program, while the other requires a health climate impact study to be conducted annually.

“In my view, the way that most Miami-Dade residents will [face] a real impact and encounter with climate is not going to be with a sea-wall, it’s not going to be their property value, it’s going to be their health,” Rodriguez stated.

Both politicians were also quick to recognize the inequity that could breed in the aftermath of climate change. Overtown’s own experience with climate gentrification and the vulnerability of Miami-Dade’s populations that cannot afford to move in the case of natural disasters suggest the dangers of lacking sea-level rise infrastructure and a climate change mitigation plan, they said.

“The folks that are most likely to be engaged [and] most likely to vote are more likely to have more money, be white, and not face the problems most of the time, so it’s more important for the politicians to listen to the community that’s directly facing the problems,” said Placeres.

View the original article here.