A Problem That Passes the Smell Test – A CPR Op-Ed

Happy New Year to all!

The following Op-Ed is posted on the online Gainesville Sun and will appear in its “Issues” section next Sunday.

A Problem That Passes the Smell Test

“Here’s a shocking truth. Over the past decade, 23,000 sewage spills have occurred in Florida. As a result, 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater have been released to the environment (either into waterways or onto land) due the failure of aging sewer pipes, lift stations, and wastewater treatment plants. More than 370 million gallons of that number were completely untreated. It’s just one of Florida’s obvious environmental problems demanding attention.

Just ask the residents of Ft. Lauderdale. During the 16 days prior to Christmas, three major sewer pipe failures poured un-calculated but, probably millions of gallons of raw sewage into streets and water bodies. N emergency bypass stopped the leakage into the Rio Vista River. But, arresting the sewage leaking into the Himmarshee Canal took longer.

Even when aging sewer systems do not catastrophically fail, they still leak or exfiltrate. The US EPA estimates 10-17 per cent of raw sewage leaks directly into the environment and ground water from aging sewer pipes. In Florida, 1.5 billion gallons of wastewater are treated EVERY DAY. That’s 534 billion gallons of wastewater each year. Just ten percent of that results in 53.4 billion gallons of raw sewage annually entering the environment and ground water.

And, that isn’t all. Aging sewer pipes infiltrate. When rains are heavy, stormwater infiltrates and overloads sewer pipes, overwhelming lift stations and treatment plant capacities. Municipal plants have no choice but to dump untreated or partially treated sewage into the environment or risk catastrophic damage to the facility. Infiltration is responsible for spewing additional tens of millions of gallons of sewage onto the ground and into streets and waterways.

Failures, exfiltration, and infiltration…are demand attention as hazardous to health and the environment. Our ground and surface waters are being polluted right before us. And, it doesn’t require a “Blue-Green Algae” Taskforce to recognize that age and neglect are polluting our water and environment.

The Coalition for Property Rights look for solutions and recently visited the City of Brooksville which is renovating its sewer pipe system. Using processes such as smoke detection to identify leaks, video observation to prioritize the worst leaks, and a process called Cured-In-Place-Pipe (CIPP), their pipes and manholes are being re-lined from within. It prevents exfiltration and infiltration, not to mention preventing failure. This rehabilitation project also eases the stress on the wastewater treatment plant during heavy rain events. Estimated cost of the project: $8,545,841.
The Florida Keys has taken dramatic action. After a disastrous experimentation with so-called “advanced” or nitrogen-reducing septic systems, Monroe County has been upgrading their wastewater treatment plants to Advance Wastewater Treatment plants (AWTs). These AWTs remove bacteria and 97 percent or more of nutrients. Treated effluent is then put into injection wells 3,200 feet below the surface. Estimated capital cost to connect residents and businesses to AWTs is $1 billion.

Two-thirds of Florida residences and businesses are serviced by sewer systems. Additionally, more than 100 million visitors use our sewer systems each year. And, in light of a projected six million new residents coming to Florida over the next few years, rehabilitation and capacity upgrades of our sewer systems cry out for action.

Florida has spent billions on Everglades restoration. And, additional millions are spent on the acquisition of conservation lands. But, if wastewater never makes it to a treatment plant due to failing pipes and, if treatment plants put nutrient-rich effluent right back into our waters and environment, or the plants lack capacity during rain events and power outages, what difference will it make?

Florida needs to fix this growing problem looming right in front of our noses. And the residents of Ft. Lauderdale are reminded of it with every breath they take.”

Addressing failing infrastructure protects people, the environment, and property.

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Dan Peterson

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