An Open Letter To New DEP Secretary From Dump The Pumps

Dump the Pumps, Inc.
P.O. Box 1956
Big Pine Key, FL 33043

January 09, 2015

Jonathan P. Steverson
Office of the Secretary
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 49

Tallahassee, Florida 32399

Dear Mr. Steverson:

We are a collection of citizens in the Florida Keys with grave concerns about environmental regulation, or rather, lack thereof.

You are no doubt aware that the Florida Keys are legally designated an Area of Critical Concern, situate in a National Marine Sanctuary having Outstanding Florida Waters. The Lower Florida Keys are home to several listed Endangered Species and contain fish and wildlife refuges including the Great White Heron Refuge, the National Key Deer Refuge, the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve (a smalltooth sawfish nursury), and others.

In such a heavily protected area, one would expect that conscientious effort would be made to ensure that Florida’s environmental regulations would be dutifully enforced.

One would expect that nationally recognized minimum standards of engineering design that have been incorporated by reference into the Florida Administrative Code would be non-negotiable in such a sensitive area. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System (CRWS).

The Florida Keys have been under state mandate to improve wastewater treatment to at least BAT (Best Available Technology) standards due to the belief that cess pits and septic tanks are a significant cause of deteriorating water quality. Monroe County government and state agency Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) were tasked with achieving the mandated standard of wastewater treatment by 2010. To help fund the task, Keys voters passed a referendum for an additional 1 percent sales tax. Much of the money raised was frittered away by county government on other unrelated projects. The mandate deadline was missed, but was extended until 2015. Keys residents voted to extend the 1% additional sales tax with the clear representation that proceeds would be used solely for sewer infrastructure until it was completed or at least fully funded. Meanwhile, the US EPA provided funds to be disbursed through the Florida State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) and other funding was provided through grants. The SRF has very specific requirements, including for public participation in the selection of alternatives. This and other specific requirements were violated. State agency FKAA led the populace to believe that nearly all properties would be served by central sewer. Central sewer was understood to mean vacuum or conventional gravity collection that would require a gravity building sewer installed by the property owner to the public pipes or vacuum pit in the road right of way. This was as stated in the Monroe County Ordinances and in the Wastewater Master Plan.

After the construction contracts were awarded for the CRWS, it was discovered that the promised conventional gravity or vacuum sewer system had been replaced by a collection system that was entirely based on the E-1 brand positive displacement grinder pump. These pumps had been sole-sourced in the contracts in violation of another SRF provision. Only one regional distributor is authorized by the manufacturer to provide these pumps, but other pumps would have been more suitable. And instead of using conventional centrifugal lift station pumps for the “gravity” areas, inappropriate and illegal residential E-1 grinder pumps were utilized. What had been designed in secrecy was an E-1 grinder pump-based sewer system, with especially dense neighborhoods connected by gravity pipes to a shared E-1 grinder pump station.

Citizens with sewer design and operation experience very quickly recognized that there were obvious design irregularities. While a grinder pump-based sewer collection system can be a viable alternative, this design is not.

Little one-horsepower pumps were expected to pump for miles through a common manifold forcemain shared by neighborhood lift stations and even master pump stations. The assumption is made that a very small percentage of pumps would ever run simultaneously, and therefore the pumps might be capable.

Instead of the promised connection point in the right-of-way that could be reached by a gravity pipe from the building drain, many property owners were expected to surrender a perpetual easement for the installation of a County-owned E-1 grinder pump station in their yard. Furthermore, they were expected to additionally subsidize construction by providing a 240 volt/ 30 amp electrical circuit for the pump. That is about the size of the circuit required for a central air conditioning. compressor. It is big.

A significant percentage of properties do not have sufficient electrical service capacity to provide such a circuit, and a significant percentage of those citizens are also on limited income. Such a requirement violates the stated intent of the “Environmental Justice” provision of the ACOE Environmental Assessment. Actually, only a draft Assessment has been found, so a final version may not even exist.

The very long runs of pipe with no re-pumping raised other red flags, and closer inspection revealed that many serious violations of standard design practice and DEP Rules were characteristic of the design. This is a dangerous situation anywhere, but especially in such a sensitive environment.

Complaints were registered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but the Department only feigned interest. Complaints were registered with the Inspector General’s Office, but again nothing was done. Only legal action remained to stop what is surely an environmental disaster in the making.

Ordinary citizens collectively contributed tens of thousands of dollars to fund the hiring of an attorney. These people are legitimately concerned and have “put their money where there mouth is”. Professional Engineers and a world renowned PhD pump expert in Connecticut volunteered their expertise and pro bono testimony in assistance. The specific violations of required minimum standards and environmental repercussions were verified by the volunteer experts and attested in deposition.

Most of the design issues are simply the result of utilizing the unusual E-1 pump in an inappropriate manner.

The E-1 pumps very slowly and can reach dangerously high pressures. Generally speaking, a pressure relief mechanism is standard sensible design with a positive displacement pump, but E-1 does not incorporate one and none was built into the design. Any obstruction to flow including a closed valve, or even too many pumps running simultaneously, can cause pressures to exceed the system test pressure and even the pressure rating of the piping when derated for annual average ground temperature in the Keys.

On many of the streets, the slow pumping rate results in a flow velocity below the minimum needed to inhibit settling of heavier material and to keep grease from sticking to the pipe walls. There are also very long runs of trunk sewers that were intentionally designed to flow at below the minimum, even during peak flow conditions. This was done to minimize head loss (pressure loss). Eventually these pipes can be expected to plug up completely and be extremely difficult and probably impossible to clear. In such an event, not only is sewer service interrupted, but the pressures upstream become dangerously high. In other locales using these same pumps, the excessive pressure has resulted in breaks, backups, and overflows. In one case, 6-9,000 gallons of raw sewage flooded a $2 million home.

The specified E-1 pump is not listed for use in a “classified hazardous location.” There is even a written warning in the pump installation instructions to not install the pump in a classified location. The neighborhood lift stations in their entirety are classified hazardous as Class One Division Two by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). DEP Rules require that pumps in such lift stations be listed to meet the more stringent NFPA Class One Division One classification.

Rather than enforce national public safety codes, DEP Ft. Myers has accepted a proposal to raise floats in the lift stations in an attempt to keep the pump motors submerged. While true that the motors are unlikely to ignite flammable gasses when submerged, the level of watewater in the lift station does not change its classification. The NFPA description specifically states the extent of classification as the entirety of the wetwell. Furthermore, float failures are a common occurrence in wastewater wetwells, so there is no guarantee of continuous submergence. In the event of a float failure causing the wetwell to be completely drained, the E-1 is known likely to destroy the rubber stator from the heat of friction from the dry rotor. This might be sufficient to ignite flammable gasses even without a spark. This hazard is unique to this unusual pump design. Floats may also be inadvertently adjusted to a more typical, normal position by service personnel who are unaware of the unusual condition accompanying the DEP exception to national public safety requirements.. This would expose the unlisted motor and its sparking contacts. The E-1 is not designed to be totally submerged in normal operation. The level switches are built in to the pump and are not adjustable. Actual E-1 service records show a high percentage of moisture intrusion failures. This particular pump model was developed in 2006 and has only been in distribution since 2007. It is quite different from earlier E-1 designs. It is not in the public interest to encourage inappropriate design or to make exceptions to public safety regulations. Consider the extreme liability of the State if one of these sewers explodes and results in injury or death. It can be very clearly shown that the DEP was warned of the danger in writing, but chose to overrule NFPA, NEC, OSHA, and Florida Administrative Code requirements just to facilitate cut-rate construction by another state agency.

DEP engineers shamed the stated objectives of the agency by making outrageous excuses and even false statements as shown in court documents from an Administrative Hearing against permits issued by Ft. Myers DEP. For example, the claim was made that the Recommended Standards for Wastewater Facilities (“Ten States Standards” or “RSWF”) that form the basis for the permit application “General Conditions” does not apply to a hybrid or alternative sewer collection system. Considering that the RSWF includes exceptions specifically applicable only to pressure sewer collection, such an argument is indefensible. Nevertheless, inapplicability of RSWF was used as an excuse to allow inadequate design in an area where exceptional caution should be used in design. For example, pressure sewer mains were allowed that do not even meet a minimum scouring velocity of 2.0 ft/sec.

Design and Specification Guidelines for Low Pressure Sewer Systems (1981) DEP (incorporated by reference 62-604.300 (j) F.A.C.), P art 4. states that “The minimum required peak design velocity for GP [grinder pump] systems shall be 0.8 m/s (2.5 ft/s)” . This is a very clear requirement (not recommendation) published by DEP and incorporated in the FAC that specifies a 2.5 ft/sec minimum velocity. Yet, it was acknowledged by DEP engineers and the design engineers that this design does not even achieve 2.0 ft/sec at peak flows in some areas. The design engineers admitted to a false statement on the application General Conditions number 78 where they attested to a minimum 2.0 ft/sec velocity. Current technical literature supports much higher minimum flows than adopted by DEP. For example, the USEPA’s Wastewater Technology Fact Sheet states.“GP [grinder pump] systems must attain three to five feet per second at least once per day.”   Pumping Station Design (3rd edition) .states, “The lowest design velocity… for raw wastewater is 2 ft/s to keep grit moving, and a peak daily velocity of 3.5 ft/s is desirable to resuspend settled solids.” and “If velocities are <2.5 ft/s, then a daily flush at 4.0 ft/s long enough to sweep out the entire volume… is desirable.”

Why is minimum scour velocity important?

The Design and Specification Guidelines for Low Pressure Sewer Systems (1981) DEP, states

“A pressure sewer is normally designed to flow full at all times. In smaller installations there  may be relatively long periods of time where no flow will occur. During these periods an opportunity exists for deposition of grease or solids and gas accumulation. The results of these  no-flow periods can pose serious problems if subsequent hydraulic conditions are unable to scour the depositions and transport those materials and gas accumulations out of the system.”

“Gas accumulations in pressure mains can increase the dynamic head resisting the PU [pumping unit]”
“Adequate preventive measures should be taken to avoid the accumulation of gases and air in
pressure sewer mains. These include: …..3. Proper design to prevent undue retention time of wastes in pressure sewer where biological and chemical activity may produce gases.”

It is unconscionable that construction of this deeply flawed sewer system is being allowed to continue now that many very serious issues have been identified. There are many other serious problems not addressed here, including some that were not addressed in the petitions against permits. We found falsified information in the permit applications, designs based on ridiculous assumptions (such as 40% of water sold being used for irrigation and hence not returned as wastewater), false affirmations claiming compliance with General Conditions of the permit, and more.

62-604.130 (7) F.A.C. prohibits “The submission, by the owner, manager, or operator of a collection/transmission system, or agent or employee thereof, of misleading, false, or inaccurate information to the Department, either knowingly or through neglect.”

The simple solution and correct action by DEP is to void the existing FKAA permits due to false or misleading application information and demand such redesign as is necessary to fully comply with minimum standards. We have information suggesting that this could be easily accomplished at reduced cost by substituting STEP for grinder pumps and substituting centrifugal lift station grinder pumps for the illegal and inappropriate use of multiple E-1 residential grinder pumps in the gravity neighborhood lift stations. It may also be necessary to add re-pumping stations, especially in areas not feasible for gravity sewers. If an interceptor pit is used between the septic tank and drainfield for STEP pumping, then power outages or downstream issues would not result in interruption of sewer service.

The design engineer for the “Inner Islands” admitted during DOAH hearings that the firm’s only previous experience with E-1 grinder pumps was 30 pumps on short pipes in FKAA’s Duck Key sewer project. In other words, they have no previous experience designing a system such as this. Why was this firm deemed qualified to design this massive, highly unconventional project? The petitioners against FDEP permits in the CRWS are supported by very reputable and highly qualified expert witnesses. These include Don Maynard, M.S., P.E., P.G., L.W.D. (Senior Geologist and Design Engineer for the Johnson Company), Mike Boismenu, P.E. (Electrical Engineer), Dr. Gunnar Hovstadius (internationally renowned pump expert now advising and working for the U.N. and the US government), Dr. Brian LaPointe (internationally renowned biologist and professor, specializing in algae proliferation), Dr. Todd Kincaid (specialist in water tracer studies and karst geology). There are others behind the scenes.

There is much factual, well documented information in several articles published in “Key West the Newspaper”, also known as “The Blue Paper”. This is one of only two independent newspapers in the area and is the only public media that is not beholden to FKAA or the County due to financial and/or other considerations. Here are links to several articles that include document links to substantiating evidence. Little of this was presented in DOAH hearings. Much is recently discovered.

It was discovered that data on permit applications had apparently been falsified, such as on the table showing forcemain velocities purported to be the output from sewer hydraulic modeling software. The velocity stated in the table for some lengths of pipe does not match the flow rate stated for the inside diameter of the subject pipe. In other cases, the stated peak velocity is about half of the required minimum, yet the engineer has attested on the permit General Conditions that no velocities are below the minimum. We do not understand why this would be acceptable to FDEP. There is no point in building a new sewer collection system if that system will not be reliable or will require extraordinary efforts and expense to prevent failure due to known design inadequacies. There are additional very serious issues with the design of this system that is currently under construction (using several permits legally invalidated by our petitions against them), but the need of sufficient scouring velocity is an easy concept to demonstrate.

The photos below are not of the CRWS project….yet. They are of other improperly designed sewer forcemains with one of the exact same issues identified on this project. Notice that all these pipes have been removed, which indicates that they could not be cleaned, only replaced. The shame of the CRWS project is that it incorporates even more design faults with the strong potential for catastrophic failure.

DTP 96

Below is a photo of the raw sewage forcemain from the Little Palm Island 5 star offshore island resort across the shallow waters of the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve and Small Tooth Sawfish Nursery, and thence across the tidal wetland shown here. This was permitted by the Ft. Myers office of FDEP. This permit allowed one of the two existing HDPE plastic water service pipes, seen here inside concrete anchor weight blocks, to be converted to a sewer forcemain! The adjacent pipe would continue to carry potable water to the resort! This FDEP-approved installation breaks a long list of FDEP design requirements intended to protect human and environmental health. It even incorporates a water pipe that although permitted for construction many years ago, was not built to the approved design and no record was found for an operating permit to actually use the pipes even for water. These pipes are often cut by boat props as they motor across the shallow flats that these pipes are submerged in. The forcemain was anticipated to carry about 15-20,000 gallons per day across the protected sanctuary flats at a rate of up to 77,000 gallons per day. The permit application was withdrawn by the resort owners just before the DOAH judge would hear our complaints against it. Rubber stamp approval of improper, illegal, hazardous designs such as this do not reflect well on the Department.

Little Palm

We beseech you to order enforcement of at least minimum standards of design on this project, and probably others.


Dump the Pumps, Inc
Banks Prevatt, Pres.

For more information about Dump The Pumps and their cause click here.

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3 thoughts on “An Open Letter To New DEP Secretary From Dump The Pumps

  1. From whistleblower Gene Nanay. Let’s hope that putting the new director “On Notice” now makes the FDEP a person(entity) of knowledge. With that they have officially been notified of a problem and have the ability to rectify it. They therefore now are LIABLE. I can see the attorneys rubbing their hands with all the future actions. And all this because our Nuevo Gang of Three had other interests. Rather than being Stewart’s of the ecology & protecting the fragile environment which is the FINANCIAL engine of the keys they chose to give away sewer money to repair a bridge to a tourist attraction & to bail out a Buba whos Marina was in the Toilet. My prediction, all these new tourist accommodations that are sprouting up, new fancy attractions, restaurants fishing tournaments, fairs, & fests bringing in all that MONEY will shrivel up & disappear. Who will want to come down and visit an open sewer.

  2. A pretty good summation of the issues, thanks. Lots of returning part time residents should bone up on this fiasco as it’s going to affect everyone who has a water bill since FKAA will likely have to pass on the costs of new employees and equipment , pensions , health benefits etc. That and the ongoing repair and maintenance of this faulty system will likely haunt us for many years if it’s allowed.
    Advertising the permits in the Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, asking DEP not to publish other notices, and the other glaring irregularities in the design and permitting process in the transmission system AND the apparent attempt to avoid building the plant correctly are reasons enough to question just about every statement and spin the FKAA spokespeople utter. We were fooled into passing the 1 cent infrastructure sales tax thinking it would be for a correctly dsigned sewer system , but our County Commissioners have frittered away the difference in initial costs for a good system by buying new properties and other less important frivolities. Then they authorized $500 k of Tourist Development funds for a “visitor center” at the Dolphin Research Center when that money could have gone to the 7 mile bridge restoration and saved the other tax money for a better more reliable sewer system as another example. They need to provide what was promised. There are a lot of reasons people are upset and they should be.

  3. The letter has focused on one aspect of faulty design that will certainly cause catastrophic failure in a few years- inadequate scouring velocity. How bad is it? I looked at the DEP permit application for Big Pine Key South that is one of the permits that Dump the Pumps, Inc has spent several tens of thousands of dollars contesting in court. Not counting the many side streets that have inadequate velocity, just the trunk forcemains have 13,804′ of pipe with a PEAK velocity of between 2.0 and 2.5 ft/sec and another 11,791′ of pipe that does not even achieve a peak velocity of 2.0 ft/sec..( One 998′ length of pipe is stated as having a peak velocity of only 1.1 ft/sec! Yet the engineer attested that all pipes were designed to have a minimum 2.0 ft/sec.) This design has about 4.8 miles of forcemain that will plug up along main roads. Nobody’s crap goes anywhere if they are upstream of the blockage, and repairs will take weeks. The other thing is that if the pipe plugs, the positive displacement E-1 grinder pumps that the entire system utilizes will pump to obscene pressures until something breaks to relieve the pressure. Then all the other pumps will push their raw sewage to the break. It will not be pretty. That’s when the Florida Keys makes national headlines, but not as a great place to vacation. I think there is a link to this permit on the Dump the Pumps, Inc. website, and it is posted on the DEP Oculus system. Dump the Pumps much appreciates any financial or other support that people provide. Also, please contact any official or politician who needs to take this situation seriously..

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