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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. 



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