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.

photo

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.

photo

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.”

photo
(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.

climatetownhall.jpeg

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.

Miami Herald, Letter: Miami-Dade’s water is safe to drink – let’s keep it that way

We have the good fortune to be able to take clean drinking water for granted in Miami-Dade County. Turn on the tap, and clean, safe water flows.

But we shouldn’t take it for granted — Miami-Dade gets nearly all of its drinking water from an aquifer only a couple feet below the ground. The aquifer is threatened by pollution from countless potential sources.

The county’s environmental watchdogs at Department of Environmental Resources Management, who work around the clock to protect our aquifer from contamination, and the great public servants at our Water and Sewer Department, who take immense pride in delivering clean drinking water to all of us, certainly don’t take our access to clean drinking water for granted.

Imagine what a day without water at our hospitals, farms, hotels, restaurants, and of course, our homes would be like.

I have been critical of the political decisions that have led to chronic under-investment in our water and sewer infrastructure. I have been frustrated by the regularity of reports of pipe and pump failures and beach closures due to dirty water.

We must step up and accelerate the replacement of old infrastructure, continue to work to improve system performance, and plan for a future where our water supply is stressed by sea level rise.

Wednesday, Oct. 23 is “Imagine a Day Without Water”. On this day, I salute the hard work and vigilance of the many professionals who make sure that we never go a day without it.

Daniella Levine Cava,

commissioner,

Miami-Dade County

View the original article here.

Miami Herald, Government needs to take bold action to save Biscayne Bay and our supply of clean water | Opinion, Op-Ed by Daniella Levine Cava

It seems like every week brings a new, more alarming reminder of the mounting threats to our community’s water system.

In August, a grand jury declared that the health of Biscayne Bay is near an ecological tipping point, and if we don’t act, the damage may become irreversible.

Less than a week later, a pipe long overdue for replacement ruptured beneath the Oleta River, dumping over 1.6 million gallons of sewage into Biscayne Bay before emergency workers could cut off the flow.

And last weekend, the most recent round of king tides — which have been steadily worsening with rising sea levels — resulted in tides nearly three feet above normal. Increased groundwater levels literally bubbled up as saltwater pressed inland from the bay, compromising septic systems, stormwater drainage and farmland.

What’s at stake as the pressures on our water accelerate? The health of our economy, our environment and our residents all hinge on access to clean water. Biscayne Bay is giving every indication that it’s careening toward collapse, in part as a result of decades of neglect to critical infrastructure.

We need to take bold, immediate action to protect our clean water and prepare for the future we know is coming as the affects of climate change intensify.

Last Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners voted to pass a package of legislation I introduced aimed at tackling the mounting threats to our clean water. The policies target key areas, including the following:

 Identifying weaknesses in our current sewer system and more swiftly diverting or shutting off flows as soon as major problems are detected to prevent future pipe breaks from dumping sewage into the bay before they can be repaired.

– Completing the coastal wetland restoration projects, long overdue, that are critical to the health of Biscayne Bay. I’m proud that the county will now partner with the South Florida Water Management District in the Cutler Wetland Flow-way project, an important step toward restoring the natural flow of fresh water to the bay — rejuvenating seagrass beds and helping protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion.

– Following the lead of communities across the country already working to reduce pollution from single-use plastics. However, state preemption is preventing local officials in Florida from acting to protect health and the environment. We voted to urge the Florida Legislature to repeal laws that preempt cities and counties from regulating the use and sale of disposable plastic.

– Looking for new solutions by adopting cutting-edge, sustainable technology, rather than continuing business as usual. We urged the State to provide funding for local pilot projects focused on new bio-solid processing technologies.

I’m proud to have earned the nickname “Water Warrior” by fighting to prioritize and protect our community’s waters. As commissioner, I have pushed for the county to aggressively step up our efforts to safeguard the bay, including banning Styrofoam in parks and improving storm drain maintenance. I passed legislation requiring a report on the health of Biscayne Bay and a study on the alarming rate of seagrass die-off, and helped expand Bay water quality monitoring.

My office is proud to support the advocates and scientists leading the charge on Bay protection, including sponsoring the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit.

We cannot be one power failure or burst pipe away from a massive spill. In the immediate short term, we must limit the damage of future sewage spills. But we also urgently need forward-looking plans to protect our community for the future. I will continue to push to accelerate pipe replacement and fund the conversion from septic to a sanitary sewer system. And I’ll keep fighting for policies that aim not only to adapt to but mitigate the effects of climate change, like moving toward a clean energy future.

Our clean water is at the heart of our community’s identity and prosperity. Far too much is at stake to take it for granted. I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to begin turning the tide on our water crisis.

Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission. She is a candidate for county mayor.

View the original article here.

The Invading Sea: Florida and the Climate, Government needs to take bold action to save Biscayne Bay and our supply of clean water | Opinion by Daniella Levine Cava

It seems like every week brings a new, more alarming reminder of the mounting threats to our community’s water system.

In August, a grand jury declared that the health of Biscayne Bay is near an ecological tipping point and if we don’t act, the damage may become irreversible.

Less than a week later, a pipe long overdue for replacement ruptured beneath the Oleta River, dumping over 1.6 million gallons of sewage into Biscayne Bay before emergency workers could cut off the flow. In total, the Water and Sewer Department reported four major incidents due to failing sewerage infrastructure over just the last eight weeks.

And this past weekend, the most recent round of king tides – which have been steadily worsening with rising sea levels – resulted in tides nearly three feet above normal. Increased groundwater levels literally bubbled up as saltwater pressed inland from the bay and this compromises septic systems, stormwater drainage and even farmland.

What’s at stake as the pressures on our water supply accelerate? The health of our economy, our environment, and our residents – they all hinge on access to clean water. Biscayne Bay is giving every indication that it’s careening toward collapse, in part as a result of decades of neglect to critical infrastructure.

We need to take bold, immediate action to protect our clean water and prepare for the future we know is coming as the effects of climate change intensify.

This week, I’m offering three specific resolutions that offer a path forward on water-related issues that are aimed at tackling this crisis:

  • We need to target weaknesses in our sewer system, and find ways to swiftly divert or shut off flows as soon as major problems are detected – to prevent future spills from continuing to dump sewage until repairs can be completed.
  • The coastal wetland restoration projects critical to the health of Biscayne Bay are long overdue. I have been calling for swift action and the completion of these projects for many years now. I’m proud to bring a resolution making the county a partner with the South Florida Water Management District in the “Cutler Wetland flow-way” project, which is an important step toward restoring natural flow of fresh water to the Bay – rejuvenating seagrass beds and even helping protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion.
  • Finally, instead of business as usual, we must also look for new solutions by adopting cutting-edge, sustainable technology. I’m offering a resolution seeking opportunities to partner with the state to pilot advanced, environmentally friendly bio-solid processing technologies.

I’m proud to have earned the nickname “Water Warrior” by fighting to prioritize and protect our community’s waters. As commissioner, I have pushed for the county to aggressively step up our efforts to safeguard the health of the bay, including combating pollution by banning Styrofoam in parks and improving storm drain maintenance.

I passed legislation requiring a report on the bay’s health and a study on the alarming rate of seagrass die-off, and helped expand bay water quality monitoring.

My office is proud to support the advocates and scientists leading the charge on bay protection, including sponsoring the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit, which is committed to creating long-term, sustainable environmental health initiatives.

In the immediate short-term, we must limit the damage of future sewage spills. We cannot be one power failure or pipe burst away from a massive spill. But we also urgently need forward-looking plans to protect our community for the future.

I will continue to push to accelerate pipe replacement and fund the conversion from septic to a sanitary sewer system. And I’ll keep fighting for policies that aim not only to adapt to but mitigate the effects of climate change, like moving toward a clean energy future.

Our clean water is at the heart of our community’s identity and prosperity. Far too much is at stake to take it for granted: We need leadership, collaboration, and bold action to begin turning the tide on our water crisis.

Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

View the original article here.

Miami Beach Times, Concern Builds Over Miami-Dade Septic Tanks Impacted by Sea Level Rise by Theresa Pinto

At the July 15th meeting of Miami-Dade County’s Biscayne Bay Task Force, the County’s Water and Sewer Department gave a somber presentation on how the aging septic systems concentrated in the northern part of the County are a significant source of the pollution that is killing the Biscayne Bay in that area.

Last year, FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute released a study that proved the main culprit of some algal blooms are septic leaks, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Last year, FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute released a study that proved the main culprit of some algal blooms are septic leaks, photo courtesy of Martin County.

Septic tanks are essentially on-site wastewater treatment systems for properties that are not able to connect to public sewer. The Environmental Protection Agency lists eight additional types of septic systems in addition to the more conventional systems, and the list is not exhaustive.

There is some debate whether septic systems are better for the environment than municipal sewage systems, but well-maintained systems in either are the best possible answer, according to Earth.com.

One-third of all Florida homes are on septic, and 108,000 homes in Miami-Dade County alone remain on septic, according to the Miami Waterkeeper. The County published their own report last November ‘Septic Systems Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise’. It is unknown how many are currently failing, but the next report by the County will address which areas are most at risk.

Septic systems fail from clogs that cause backups of sewage into the home, deteriorating tanks that leak contamination into nearby waterways, and now sea level rise is causing some to fail when the rising water table impacts the buried tanks and prevents the required gravitational flow necessary for the septic tanks to work properly.

In Miami, water from septic systems recharge the Biscayne Aquifer, the area’s main source of drinking water. Failing systems will therefore impact drinking water, as well as providing sources of nutrient pollution runoff into Biscayne Bay, Florida’s freshwater springs, and the Everglades. Florida’s waters are especially connected.

Last spring, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute released a study that proved the main culprit of many algal blooms is nitrogen from septic leaks.

Concern Builds Over Miami Septic Tanks Impacted by Sea Level Rise, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Community groups are concerned with the impacts of sea level rise on Miami’s septic tanks, photo internet creation.

According to Miami-Dade County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava, she “has been quite aware for some time that our water septic system is at risk as our water table rises. And septic pollution is one of the causes of [the destruction of upper Biscayne Bay].”

The consensus for now is that the solution requires connecting homes to public sewage lines. The problem is cost, to both municipalities (to build the municipal infrastructure) and to property owners (to convert home septic systems into connectable sewer lines).

Levine Cava says the trunk lines – the main arteries of a sewer system that deliver the wastewater directly to the treatment center – already exist in many areas, so the work is feasible, but the cost is prohibitive.

According to Levine Cava, the County cannot raise the funds through current fee structures, because fees collected by the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department are proprietary, meaning they can only be applied to current fee-payers’ needs.

The goal then is to set aside funds for future rate payers, plus add some state and federal funds under resiliency measures, to pay for the work on the County’s end. But there is no money currently available for retrofitting all the homes that are on septic in the County.

Last year, the Village of El Portal began Phase 1 of their septic to sewer project. They intend to eventually provide sewer service within the entire Village limits, at a cost of over $24 million for just 701 households, plus a smattering of commercial spaces.

Another concern, one addressed by the Miami Climate Alliance, is the differential ability of homeowners to convert.

Florida DEP has a Septic Upgrade Incentive Program, but the focus area is in and around central Florida's springs and their restoration. Miami-Dade County is not eligible, photo courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Florida DEP has a Septic Upgrade Incentive Program, but the focus area is in and around central Florida’s springs and their restoration, Miami-Dade County is not eligible, photo courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Zelalem Adefris, Miami Climate Alliance Steering Committee member stated, “[We are] concerned because although wealthy households might be able to foot the bill to connect to sewer (which is incredibly expensive), this would be a huge burden to a middle or low-income family.

Adding, “We’re trying to see how we can get ahead of this issue and get assistance for those families now, before the sewage in their house fails.”

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has a Septic Upgrade Incentive Program, but the focus area is in and around central Florida’s springs and their restoration. Miami-Dade County is not on the list of eligible counties.

According to Levine Cava, Miami-Dade is considering working with programs like PACE, to find funds for homeowners to make changes on their end.

“It’s expensive and very essential. But it is only one part of the solution. We also have to reduce fertilizer runoff and sewage leakages. [And] we don’t have the luxury of time. We are already killing the Bay. And with the Bay goes our economy, our recreation, and our health.”

Florida Senator Joe Gruters introduced a bill last legislative session for regular system inspections but the bill died in committee.

Some groups express concern with an enforcement system that will likely again impact low-income property owners differentially, especially if there are penalties or fines associated with the inspections.

Solutions to waste pollution will take huge collaborative efforts. Levine Cava is set to present to the Florida League of Cities in November at their Board meeting “on this very topic.”

She has also reached out to the Florida Association of Counties with the intention of creating state funds for septic system conversions. As Levine Cava put it, “All the Cities and Counties must work together.”

View the original article here.