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Six wastewater treatment facilities (Publicly Owned Treatment Works) in South Florida have been discharging an average of about 360 million gallons per day of treated wastewater to the ocean for decades.  The outfall pipes discharge from one to three miles offshore.

The Florida Senate has passed a bill that would shut down these ocean outfalls by 2025.  Governor Charlie Crist supports the bill.

Interim measures to reduce the outfalls’ effects would be upgrading treatment plants to advanced treatment and constructing plants to reuse at least 60% of the plants’ effluent.

The six plants include those owned by Miami Dade Central, Miami Dade North, City of Hollywood, Broward County, Delray Beach and Boca Raton.  Residents and businesses can prepare to open their wallets, because a rough estimate of the cost is over $3 billion, most of which will be passed on to the rate payers.

When people read about sewage outfalls, they immediately think of raw, untreated sewage or septage.  Raw sewage is NOT being discharged to the ocean.  The wastewater is treated to “secondary” levels.  In Florida, that means the treatment plants must remove at least 90% of the pollutants from the wastewater before it goes out to the ocean.  Most treatment plants remove even more than the minimum requirement.  And the water is disinfected as well. 

If I poured wastewater effluent from a plant with secondary treatment into a glass, in most cases it would be hard to tell it from drinking water.

EPA has a report on the Florida ocean outfalls that outlines the extensive scientific analysis and modeling that determined the risk from discharging effluent to the ocean was very low, though some questions still need answering. 

My opinion is that requiring future upgrades for additional treatment–and increasing the amount of wastewater reused is a good solution.  Prohibiting future ocean outfalls is OK.  But requiring these cities and counties to completely stop their ocean outfall is just not necessary.  The cost will be overwhelming–will the benefit really match it?  Effluent has to go somewhere, whether reused for irrigation, or discharged to a river or the ocean. 

Some marine scientists and environmental groups, like Earthjustice and the National Resources Defense Council  would disagree with me.  Noting concerns with the nitrogen and phosphorus causing red tides . . . the effects of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupters on wildlife . . . and human health risks. 

I’d like to know what you think about this issue. 



With increasing concern, I’ve been reading about colony collapse disorder.  This phenomenon started in October 2006, when beekeepers noted major losses of honey bees in their hives.  No dead bees were found, the queen was still in the colony, but the bees were just–gone! 

Honey bees are critical to our food supply.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that we get about one third of our diet from insect-pollinated plants, with the honey bee doing about 80% of that work.  Honey bees pollinate about 130 agricultural crops in the United States–everything from almonds to apples to cucumbers.  Bee pollination accounts for nearly $15 billion in crop value. 

So what is causing the honey bee colony collapse disorder?  No single cause has been determined. 

Pathogens and pesticides may be part of the problem.  More likely, a combination of factors add up to stress the poor honey bee.

One factor that doesn’t help:  A University of Virginia study determined that pollution from automobiles and power plants is destroying the fragrance of flowers–making it hard for bees to follow scent trails to their source.  Scent molecules that could travel 1,000 to 1,200 meters in the 1800’s can only travel about 200 to 300 meters today.  The scents are chemically altered. 

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, notes that this leads to a vicious cycle.  The pollinators can’t easily find the flowers–and the flowers, which rely on pollinators to reproduce, can’t proliferate.

So what can we do to help the honey bee?  Of course, be prudent with our use of electricity and fuel.  Also, be careful about spraying pesticides, especially during the middle of the day when bees are most likely to be “working.”

Northeast Florida’s St. Johns River is listed as #6 in the America’s Most Endangered Rivers Report 2008. 

American Rivers‘™ annual report highlights U.S. rivers facing critical junctures–decisions that could determine their future–within the year.  Rivers on the list aren’t necessarily polluted, but can be threatened by development or other potential dangers.

The St. Johns River was listed because the thirsty and rapidly-growing Central Florida area wants to tap into the river and use it as a drinking water supply source.  Seminole County already has a permit application that was recommended for approval by the St. Johns River Water Management District to use about 5 million gallons per day from the river to supply the Yankee Lake Regional Water Facility.  Withdrawals totaling up to 155 million gallons per day are planned for the Central Florida region. 

Concerns about changing the salinity and increasing pollutant concentrations put the St. Johns on the endangered list.  America’s Rivers™ recommends action–and their suggestion is to contact the St. Johns River Water Management District and encourage them to deny permits for using the St. Johns River as a potable water source. 

The St. Johns River Water Management District has decided to conduct a more detailed study on the effects of removing water from the river.  In the meantime, the District is preparing even more stringent rules to promote water conservation. 

The St. Johns Riverkeeper submitted the nomination in the hopes that an endangered designation would attract the attention of Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist

Using rivers and other surface waters for drinking water supply is nothing new.  The EPA notes that most of the large cities in the United States get their drinking water from surface water sources. 

Alamosa, Colorado is recovering–and residents can drink the water

The drinking water in Alamosa, Colorado tested positive for giardia, cryptosporidium and salmonella.  All of these “critters” can cause stomach pain, diarrhea and fever.  The elderly, the very young, and people with weak immune systems are especially at danger.

Since March 7, nearly 400 people have come down with salmonella, with 16 being hospitalized.  One of the patients was an infant who had just had heart surgery and nearly died. 

The city used a high-chlorine flush of the pipes to kill these microorganisms.  But in the meantime the 8,500 residents of Alamosa have been under a “do not drink” order from March 19 until April 11.  And during the chlorine flush, bathing, showering or even touching the water was banned due to the high chemical levels.

How did this happen?  The city hasn’t been able to pinpoint the cause. 

Alamosa had one of the few non-disinfected water supplies in the state.  Because their water came from deep, uncontaminated wells, no disinfection was required.  Unfortunately, water pipes can crack and let contaminants enter, water tanks might be susceptible to bird droppings if they aren’t properly sealed, or non-potable water sources can be cross-connected with drinking water pipes in the system.

According to the news reports, Alamosa will be disinfecting their water going forward. 

Until something like this happens in your community, it’s hard to imagine what a true disaster contaminated water can be.  Schools close.  Businesses have to modify their operation or sometimes close their doors. The cost rises geometrically each day.

 Can you imagine not even being able to take a shower for days or weeks? 

As I noted in my earlier blog about our Infrastructure Report Card, our underground pipes are getting old and breaking down.  The Water is Life site has a copy of a recent AP Article about our breaking water lines and the billions of gallons of water lost–not to mention the damage to roadways and buildings. 

Replacing old lines is costly but will become more critical as time goes by.  Nobody wants to hear about rate increases, but we have to keep our water lines intact to protect our water supply. 

The New York Times published an interesting article by  CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH summarizing an interview with Nestle Waters’ chief executive, Kim E. Jeffrey.  Mr. Jeffrey answers some environmental concerns.  He explained that the competition for bottled water is other canned and bottled beverages–not tap water. 

I think Mr. Jeffrey is right in his assessment that people will continue to buy bottled water no matter how much criticism they get from environmentalists. 

According to an article by Ivan Penn, Nestle lucked out when the State of Florida continued a permit allowing the company to take up to 1.47 million gallons of water per day from Madison Blue Springs until 2018. 

Nestle purchased the land near Madison Blue Springs with an existing bottling permit and will pay no fees or taxes for the water, except for a $230 permit.  The Suwanee River Water Management District staff recommended lowering the permit limit to 400,000 gallons per day.  Due to drought conditions, the flow from the springs had dropped from 55 to 34 million gallons per day. 

But Nestle had the support of Florida’s economic development entity, Enterprise Florida, Inc.–based on Nestle’s promise to create 300 jobs.

Nestle is an eco-friendly company.  And bottled water is certainly a good, healthy product.  But is it right for a company to make big bucks while using millions of gallons of water–when local citizens are under water restrictions and paying ever higher rates?   

Economic development is important, especially in this area of the state.  But water supply is getting to be a critical problem. 


Unless you live in a cave, you’ve either read about the impacts of global warming, watched a special on television or seen An Inconvenient Truth.

Debate still rages over whether climate change is a reality or not, and its ultimate impact on the environment and on our lives.

Anyone interested in this topic needs to read Bjorn Lomborg‘s Cool It  The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming. 

Lomborg is an economist who started the Copenhagen Consensus in 2004. The Copenhagen Consensus Center brings 55 international economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, together to prioritize the world’s greatest challenges–and find cost-effective solutions.  Global warming is just one of those priorities.

Bjorn makes simple but powerful arguments in Cool It.  First of all, Bjorn agrees that global warming is real, that human activity contributes to it, and that it will have a serious impact on our lives and the environment by the end of the century. 

However, he disagrees with the wildly exaggerated statements related to global warming’s consequences.  The apocalyptic descriptions of climate change that we see regularly in the media “make any sensible policy dialogue about our global choices impossible.”  Instead, it polarizes people with differing opinions and stifles progress.

Bjorn promotes finding simple, intelligent and efficient solutions.  The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, committed developed countries that ratified it to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions by about 20 percent below what they would have been in the period from 2008 to 2012.  But looking at it from an economist’s point of view, the cost is much greater than the benefit gained.

Another important point in Cool It–there are more important issues than global warming.  Hunger.  Poverty.  Lack of clean water. Disease.  Solving some of these problems can help more people at a lower cost.

And his final argument–“We need to remind ourselves that our ultimate goal is not to reduce greenhouse gases or global warming per se but to improve the quality of life and the environment.”

Being down to earth about helping the earth–I think this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to have a fully rounded opinion on the global warming issue. 

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