Environmental report says Gulf is 'Florida's Toilet'
U.S. Water News Online
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — What Floridians already are doing to the Gulf of Mexico is 100 times worse than the risk of pollution from offshore drilling, the leader of an environmental group said.
Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said poorly treated sewage being flushed into the Gulf is turning it into “Florida's Toilet.”
That's the title of a new report issued by Young's organization. It says the Gulf and associated waters are being fouled in part because sewage treatment facilities have failed to keep up with growth. Weak laws and lax enforcement also share the blame, the report concludes.
It comes amid renewed debate over domestic oil and natural gas exploration after Gov. Charlie Crist dropped his long-standing support for a federal moratorium on offshore drilling.
Crist has endorsed a proposal by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to let each state decide whether to drill offshore.
“I'm not pro-drilling,” Young said at a news conference. “I never have been and never will be, but I'm a lot more concerned and worried about the sewage that we are inadequately treating and irresponsibly disposing all over the state.”
The report details violations of environment standards by sewage systems from Pensacola to Key West from 2003 to 2008. It concludes that violations of water quality standards, leaky pipes and accidental spills were the rule rather than the exception.
The excessive nutrients and bacteria have been linked to red tide and other harmful algae blooms, fish kills and contaminated beaches and seafood.
“You don't poop where you eat, and that's what we're doing,” said Jack Rudloe, director of the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, who joined Young at the news conference.
The report recommends tougher enforcement and stronger laws, advanced treatment of all sewage, and more money for wastewater treatment. It also calls for bans on discharges into surface waters and on new connections to out-of-compliance systems and growth limits in areas without adequate sewage facilities.
It criticizes the Department of Environmental Protection for inconsistent and ineffective enforcement, citing a recent report by another group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The PEER report shows about two-thirds of domestic wastewater cases last year were settled by the payment of fines without monitoring or other follow-up or lawsuits. The average penalty also dropped by about 60 percent.
“It's what we call a traffic ticket mentality or pay to pollute,” said PEER's Florida director Jerry Phillips.
He said that trend has accelerated although the agency promised to get tougher after Crist took office last year.
Department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said in an e-mail that “99.99 percent” of all domestic wastewater in the state - 1.7 billion gallons a day - is handled without incident.
“DEP stands by its enforcement record,” she wrote. “While wastewater spills are abnormal events that sometimes happen, DEP takes all wastewater spills seriously and follows up with any necessary enforcement action.”
The department is working with utilities to eliminate direct discharges into surface waters and encouraging the reuse of treated wastewater for such purposes as irrigation, she added.
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