Clarification: The Challenge to Cudjoe Regional Shallow Injection Well Permit

Concerning your Guest Editorial by Harry Powell:

Thank you very much for your guest editorial in The Blue Paper about the problems with shallow sewage wells at Cudjoe Regional. I think it’s really important to make these issues public, so I appreciate very much the time you’ve spent to do that.

But you’ve overlooked a very important fact.

The two property owners groups you mentioned are not the only challengers to the shallow wells at Cudjoe Regional, so the fact that they are now working with DigDeepCudjoe to try to convince FKAA to settle the legal challenge in exchange for some water quality studies – which are already required by FDEP anyway – instead of the deep well required by Florida law, does not mean that settlement is going to happen. Continue reading

Guest Editorial: Cudjoe Regional Sewer Design / A Look Behind The Curtain




Here is another piece of the puzzle on how the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS) came to be so very badly designed that those of us who are paying attention actually consider it to be an endangerment to our National Marine Sanctuary, and far from an improvement to existing treatment and disposal. The information herein was not easily obtained. Continue reading

GUEST EDITORIAL: The Real Story Behind the Resistance to Deep Well Wastewater Disposal

whistle blow

As a member of Dump the Pumps and worrying that the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System [CRWS] is deeply flawed, I have been privy to documents and people associated with the group and some people you might want to call “whistleblowers” who are FKAA employees or contractors. Here’s some of what I have gleaned from these sources:

~~Harry Powel


The Cudjoe Regional Wastewater treatment plant currently under construction at the Cudjoe landfill has been challenged for its intended use of shallow injection wells for effluent disposal​. There are a couple of property owner associations that fund the Dig Deep Cudjoe group that was formed to fight for deep well disposal of the partially treated wastewater​. Rumor suggests that they may believe that FKAA is looking for a way to say to the County, “The science says we need a deep well.” Hence their optimism arising from FKAA’s offer to do a baseline study and 5 year monitoring near the Cudjoe treatment plant. That way ​FKAA can save face and begin deep well design and construction as if they are being environmentally responsible. Ha!

The motives and agenda of FKAA may be very different than what the POAs imagine. There may be still more trickery and deceit involved, as many have come to expect from FKAA.​ Consider the following…​ Continue reading



Last stand logo cropped

Last Stand announced on Wednesday that it is strongly opposed to disposal of treated sewage into shallow wells at the as yet unfinished Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In letters to DEP, FKAA and each Monroe County Commissioner, the Keyswide environmental group cited state regulations, insufficient treatment and danger to sealife as reasons why the plant should be required to pump its waste 2,500-3,000 feet below the surface into the Boulder Zone.

“DEP requires sewage plants that have the potential to treat one million gallons a day to use deep well disposal,” said Naja Girard, president of Last Stand, a watch-dog group which has operated in the Keys for over 25 years.  “Deep wells receive the partially treated waste water and retain it below solid barriers, while shallow wells allow the fresh water to rise to the surface and move into the nearshore waters,” she added. Continue reading

Guest Column: Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, a Solution?

For almost a year and a half, I have been arguing that the planned, pressurized wastewater system, using grinder pumps, that is proposed for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS) is uneconomic, unreliable, a burden on homeowners, and a potential environmental nightmare.  Now we learn that the shallow injection well design (120’ deep well) at the treatment plant may be an environmental disaster as well and is probably illegal, if the DEP actually enforces its own regulations.  How did we get to the point; where we are willing to install a system in the fragile environment of the Florida Keys, which may be worse than the septic systems we have now?  The answer is MONEY!!   In the 2006-11 timeframe, when the County and FKAA were being forced by the State and the EPA  to move forward with a sewer system, there were no State funds, the 1% infrastructure tax was to expire in 2018, and estimates for a system serving about 9,000 homes was well over $ 200 million. Continue reading




At any other time, it would probably have slipped quietly past us all.  But timing and circumstances were such that members and sympathizers of the grassroots organization Dump the Pumps, Inc. (DTPI) were on high alert, watching for still more sneaky and generally dishonorable Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) activity.

For years, FKAA had residents of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS) region believing the agency’s project to connect their homes to a centralized sewage treatment plant would consist primarily of a gravity fed system with only a minor amount of outliers, out of necessity and due to their remote location, slated to be connected via less reliable low-pressure grinder pump [LPS] systems. Continue reading

Let’s Stop the C.R.A.P.

Most people don’t like algebra and dreaded it in high school. It was difficult solving those equations and most students said we would never use algebra in real life. Well once again we have an equation that seems difficult to solve. The FKAA board was asked by the BOCC at the Dec. meeting to give it a number on  grinder pump vs. gravity system installation cost differencial, (x) so the BOCC would know how much less (x) to allocate for sewer spending (m)  resulting in lower costs (c). m-x=c. Yes, doing the algebra the answer is x=m-c, butt FKAA was unable at that time to come up with some numbers then. Meanwhile, it seems like a push is on to get as many homes as possible hooked up to those awful pumps, rather than have crews work on gravity systems where they are already approved.

X is an extreme variable. The county would initially save some money by installing a cheaper, inefficient, inferior system, butt it would be at the expense of the poor people required to have them. It is a higher financial burden to them with installation, maintenance, and probable replacement costs as these systems fail. Long term results would also be depreciation of house values of properties having these pumps because of those problems. Once word gets out among home-buyers about these problems, they will avoid buying them, resulting in lower prices for sellers having to have to sell their homes. While X is a savings to the County, it is a factor to be feared by all those required to have them installed.

FKAA members (who say publicly that they prefer gravity systems over grinder pumps) said they could not solve for X. Let’s stop trying to solve for X and forget the algebra that no one likes anyway. Let’s stop the awful grinder pumps that most people don’t like anyway. Let’s stop the C.R.A.P (Commissioners Requiring Awful Pumps) and get gravity for all. Let’s stop the Commissioners Requiring Awful Pumps before we have to Dump the C.R.A.P. in the next election.

Joe McKasty

Big Pine Key

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Does the FKAA  have the authority to say no to the BOCC?  Could the FKAA Board have refused to install the cheaper inferior grinder pumps, because they preferred the better system of gravity for all?

Last month there was a gigantic Powerball prize jackpot. I was hoping I would win so I could give the FKAA the money they needed to get gravity for all, even with that amount approaching 50 million dollars. If I had won over 300 million, yes, I would have. I hoped and prayed to be tested.

Now, could the FKAA have said no to the BOCC requiring those awful grinder pumps, had I won and given them what they needed to get gravity for all? In that circumstance, I’m sure they could have and would have. I didn’t win, but I believe the FKAA could have said no in that hypothetical situation. Therefore, they could say no to the BOCC requirement of cheaper, awful grinder pump installations. They could say we will install gravity for all those that we can, with whatever monies you, the BOCC, allocate to us.

Having  funds reduced for this waste-water project and forcing the FKAA to install  awful, inferior, grinder pumps puts an undue hardship on a lot of home-owners that will have to pay high installation and maintenance costs. There’s also the probability of their homes depreciating in value because of grinder-pump hook-ups. Is saying no to the BOCC, something that the FKAA that could have done, butt would not do, when they should have? It’s a bad case of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Joe McKasty

Big Pine Key

Cudjoe Regional Sewer System Litigation Status

The final approval of changes to the CRWS [Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System] that reflect the reduction of over 1,100 grinder pumps will take place on November 20th when both the BOCC and FKAA BOD will approve a new Inter Local Agreement.  Since the litigation in place required a response prior to that, all four parties, Walt Drabinski, FKAA, Monroe County and the Clerk of Courts have signed a stipulation delaying any action until after the ILA is approved.  Assuming it is approved as stated in the County votes, Walt Drabinski will withdraw all litigation within two days afterward.

Walt Drabinski

Monroe County Approves Gravity Funding

On Wednesday, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners, at it’s monthly meeting, approved two resolutions that provide funding of almost $ 11 million to expand the number of subdivisions getting gravity sewers rather than low pressure grinder pumps.  This change will affect 1,152 of the almost 2,800 EDUs or homes originally slated for grinders.

The affected subdivisions include: Buttonwood Dr. and Allamanda Dr, on Lower Sugarloaf Key, Logger Head Ln. on Upper Sugarloaf Key , Cudjoe Gardens and Cudjoe Shores on Cudjoe Key, and Eden Pines, Doctors Arm, Big Pine North and Big Pine South on Big Pine Key.

This reduction, of over one-third of the planned grinder pumps, will assure long term savings far in excess of the initial construction cost differential.  The changes will also reduce the requirement of homeowners to provide an electric supply to the grinders and to deed a portion of the property to the FKAA.  Regular maintenance by the FKAA and the need for emergency generators after storms will also be reduced significantly.

We applaud the County Commissioners for their willingness to address this issue and to FKAA for supporting the decision.  Most impotently, we thank all of the citizens that supported the Sir Isaac Newton Coalition in this endeavor.  Given this action by the County and FKAA, the two lawsuits that address the funding and decision process will be reassessed in the next few days.

REBUTTAL: HDPE Pipe – A Progressive Step

I read the article that was published by Mr. Walt Drabinski (WB) in the September 6 issue of Key West, The Newspaper.

I appreciate the opportunity to have The Newspaper publish a rebuttal to address some of the misinformation that was included in the article about High Density Polyethylene (HDPE).  I selected 6 statements from the article and provided a brief response and links to supporting documents as listed below-

1.      WB –   An Environmental Nightmare?

Response: this is incorrect- the article did not provide the relevant facts to justify this title; to the contrary, the mayor of the city of Livonia, MI (and many other utilities in Florida and around the country) are using HDPE ‘to be  environmentally progressive’ and ‘to save infrastructure in tough economic times’ as was documented in the ‘Best Practices’ section of the US Mayor magazine; Mayor Jack Kirksey concluded  “The use of HDPE pipe is a progressive step that all other cities should consider to reduce costs and disruption of daily life during the project, and to improve their water infrastructure with a long-life product.”

Other cities in Florida that have or are using HDPE for water and sewer include: Continue reading


The Low Pressure section of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS) will have over 100 miles of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Pipe, ranging in size from 2” to 8” that will be buried 2’ to 4’ under the surface. It will be under pressures of 15psi to 60psi. The Low Pressure System is asserted to be a low cost, reliable, wastewater collection system that will save money on initial sewer system installation. But what are its long term costs? Could it be an environmental disaster in the future due to pipe failures? Or perhaps a financial disaster if the piping needs replacement in a few years?

The Florida Keys are a series of coral (limestone) islands. In most areas of the lower Keys, there is salt water flowing only a few feet below the surface. Limestone, with a high water table, is naturally unstable. Sink holes, dips, settling of buildings and shifting roadbeds occur over time. Idiots dig and drill without checking. Each home with a grinder pump (projected to be 2,800) will pump into a series of headers and ultimately into an 8” plastic line that runs over 20 miles from Big Pine to Lower Sugarloaf. In addition, 275 lift stations that consist of large concrete tanks with up to 5 grinder pumps will take the gravity feeds and pump them into the same lines.

The problem, in general, is that HDPE pipe has a tendency to become brittle and crack over time. It is inevitable that failures will occur at some time in the future. Our specific problem is that when cracks occur and effluent leaks, it is very likely that it will go right into our porous limestone aquifer. Eventually the effluent will reach our pristine waters, but this could be some distance away. Complicating things is that there is no way to monitor for leaks in a pressure system. With gravity, when there is a leak, salt water will leak into the pipe and be detected at the waste treatment plant and looked for in the manholes it flows through. A vacuum system line failure is noticed immediately and can be found through simple diagnostic troubleshooting. A leak in a pressurized sewer system might go undetected for months or longer. We may discover that the incremental improvement in sewage treatment we seek is lost through a collection system that is ill designed for our environment.

There is an excellent web site at that provides numerous examples of failures and should have been read by our County Engineer before this system was signed approved. For other ways the LPS/grinder system costs more, go to or contact us at

Walt Drabinski

Sir Isaac Newton Coalition


See also Rebuttal by Camille George Rubeiz, the Director of Engineering (M&I) for the Plastics Pipe Institute.

Aqueduct Authority Pushes For More Water In Lieu Of Conservation

FKAA Florida City Aerial 2009

FKAA Florida City Aerial 2009

On May 24, a brief article appeared in the Citizen and created little notice. The story indicated that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) had commissioned a report from a private consulting firm that was designed to discover if the amount of water we consume has any impact on the Biscayne Aquifer, from which we get almost all our water.

It was no surprise to read that the conclusion was no. According to the piece in the Citizen,

“There is little or no correlation noted between groundwater levels and groundwater pumpage,” the report states. “[We plan to] Present findings of this study to the (South Florida Water Management District) to begin meaningful discussions on operations of the FKAA well field.”

Somehow this just didn’t add up. In essence the Aqueduct Authority is claiming that no matter how much water the Keys use, there will be no impact on the source. Continue reading

GUEST EDITORIAL: Aqueduct Authority Selects High Cost Sewer Option

LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM SKETCHGiven the choice of a system that is a bit more expensive initially, versus one that will cost almost twice as much over its lifetime, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) has chosen the expensive, long term option.  This is an option that every resident in the Florida Keys will pay for through the uniform rates charged by FKAA.  Over the life of the project, it will cost all Keys ratepayers almost $30 million more.

The proposed Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS) will be a difficult and complex project.  It extends from the north side of Big Pine Key to Lower Sugarloaf Key, well over twenty miles.   One of the difficult decisions is the type of technology to use, particularly for remote and distant homes where a traditional gravity system is not technically feasible.  One option is to use a Low Pressure System (LPS) which is simply a buried tank with a grinder pump that chews up the sewage from a single house and pumps it to a central facility. This is a proven technology, but one that has very high operating and maintenance costs and has poor performance in salt environment and in tropical storms.  For example, the Key Largo system of 9,800 homes uses 152 grinder pumps.  By comparison, FKAA proposes using 2,800 grinder pumps for the 8,800 homes in the Cudjoe System. Continue reading

Water Conservation Efforts Require Decoupling of Rates From Sales Volumes


Congratulations on your launch of The Blue Paper and thank you for Michael Welber’s article about the water supply implications of the state’s failure to restrain development in the Keys. I’d like to elaborate on one of the fundamental obstacles to reducing demand for utility water and a solution.

American’s consumption of water is by far the highest in the world. Estimates vary, but the average American consumes 100 gallons of water per day (GPD), while it’s 35 GPD for southeast Queensland, Australia, and the U.S. rate structure perpetuates our profligacy. Continue reading

What Happens When There’s Not A Drop To Drink?

An aerial photo of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s pumping station in Florida City. The Reverse Osmosis plant is at the bottom of the photo.

An aerial photo of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s pumping station in Florida City. The Reverse Osmosis plant is at the bottom of the photo.

Citing the “delicate balance to be had in the Keys between public safety and property rights,” Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Thursday voted to allow 3,550 new residential units to be built in Monroe over the next decade.

That lead paragraph in the Florida Keys Keynoter referred to the governor and cabinet’s worry about public safety but never mentioned an even more critical concern in the Keys: water. Continue reading