water pollution reduced

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…

“The water would turn green,” says Dr. James Fourqurean. “The effluent coming out of the sewer plant will basically be fertilizer.” Dr. Fourqurean, a marine biology expert, testified last Tuesday about the effects of injecting approximately 1 Million gallons of treated sewage into a shallow well in Safe Harbor on Stock Island.

Attorneys for a Stock Island sewer plant and environmental group Last Stand were in Court most of this week fighting over DEP’s intent to issue the controversial shallow well permit.

Construction and development have been booming on Stock Island. Hotels, gated communities, and new residential homes are in the works. Every owner of a boatyard, vacant lot, or marina appears to be dreaming about those tourist dollars. But what to do with all of that added sewage?

KW Resort Utilities, a privately owned Stock Island sewer plant, has followed suit with an expansion plan and is seeking a permit that would allow it to double its capacity to treat sewage to just under a Million gallons per day; just under the legal threshold that would trigger a requirement for a deep injection well.

The two additional shallow wells the plant wants to use would cost about $60-$80,000 each compared with upwards of 7 Million dollars for a deep well.

Shallow wells, however, have become very controversial. A month ago, on Cudjoe Key, when the four shallow wells there were being tested prior to becoming active, the ground around the injection site erupted with gaseous bubbles. Within seconds of sending water down the well, “Bubbles were coming out like an aeration rock for an aquarium,” said Walt Schwarz, Engineering Manager of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Program. He told The Blue Paper that the ground in the Keys was extremely porous, “When we dig around here we hit sinkholes everywhere.” One of them, he said, was so deep that they were unable to reach the bottom.

FKAA’s plan for shallow wells for the Cudjoe regional treatment plant was subsequently scrapped and the County Commission unanimously voted to spend the money to dig a deep well – cased down to at least 2,000 feet instead of 60’ feet.

So, if everyone is in agreement that shallow wells offer little environmental protection in the Keys, why are DEP, Last Stand, and KW Resort Utilities spending tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to argue before an Administrative Law Judge about something everyone already knows the answer to?

Because, “This is not a case about solving the environmental problems of the Florida Keys,” said attorney Barton Smith, whose family owns the Stock Island sewer plant, “It’s about following regulations in the issuance of a permit. As long as the plant is processing less than 1 Million gallons per day, shallow wells are allowed.”

And for KW Resort Utilities, the permit to use shallow wells represents the difference between approximately $150,000 and $7 Million. [Actually Chris Johnson, President of Key West Resort Utilities, testified that a deep well could cost up to $10 Million.]

For Last Stand, it is about the DEP issuing a permit to continue degrading waters that appear murkier every year. In fact, there is more to the shallow well permit question than a simple cap of less than 1 Million gallons per day. One of the main issues Diana Davis, Last Stand’s attorney, is asking Judge Cathy Sellers to determine is whether, before deciding to issue the permit, DEP had gathered the mandatory “reasonable assurances” required by law, that the plant was not going to negatively impact water quality in the area.

The two “bad guys” in the story are called Phosphorous and Nitrogen. Both are found in large quantities in domestic wastewater. Both threaten the two iconic species found in Florida Keys waters: Turtle Grass and Coral. Dr. Fourqurean testified Tuesday that even when treated to the proposed Advanced Wastewater Treatment standards [called AWT], sewage effluent carries 15 times more Nitrogen and 100 times more Phosphorous than healthy seawater.

Of the two, he explained, Phosphorous is the most dangerous as its effects are “cumulative and permanent.” Its presence allows the slow growing Turtle Grass to be replaced by fast growing seaweed and the seaweed to be replaced by algae blooms. [That is when the water turns green.] The damage done by an overabundance of Phosphorous is irreversible. Decades later, Fourqurean explained, it can still be found at the location of the grass bed it has helped to destroy.

KW Resort Utilities attorneys argue that the sewer plant will go to AWT and begin collecting effluent from smaller “package plants” and septic systems that don’t have AWT capabilities which, in turn, will result in improving water quality rather than degrading it.

“Convoluted logic,” observed Dr. Fourqurean while on the stand: DEP admits the expanded plant will contaminate surface waters with nutrients but claims it should be permitted, nonetheless, because it will be polluting less than the rogue systems it is designed to replace.

This claim to a ‘right to pollute’ sparked off a perplexing moment in the Courtroom on Tuesday.

There was a long, rather ambiguous presentation by Johnson as to his plant’s AWT “capability.” Finally, Judge Sellers asked for clarification:
“So is the sewage treated to the AWT standard now?”
“Huh? No.” said Johnson.
“Why not?”
“Because we don’t have to; not until January 1, 2016,” said Johnson.

And attorney Barton Smith added that the plant has been capable of treating to AWT since 2009.

And so there was a moment; a moment when the vision of billions of gallons of poorly treated sewage floated in the minds of the 20 or so people in attendance. Apparently, for the past 6 years, substandard effluent has been poured into the ocean, not because it could not be treated to AWT, but because the plant owners had ”the right” not to treat it to the higher standard.

Thirteen witnesses from the Keys including fishermen, tour operators, divers, and others were expected to testify as to their concerns over the increasing turbidity and dramatic algae blooms observed in the near shore waters, but attorney Barton Smith objected, stating that he had not received the list of witnesses 35 days in advance, as per the rule, and those witnesses were denied the right to testify.

And DEP’s water quality expert, Ken Weaver, from Tallahassee, testified that Florida Keys waters are considered “healthy.” Apparently, not at all suffering from an imbalance in the level of nutrients… or algae blooms….

“The $7 Million cost is not an excuse,” said Key West resident Christine Russel who sat in on the proceedings, “Developers are building hundred million dollar hotels on Stock Island. If they want their resorts they should pay to inject the wastewater safely – even if it costs seven of them a million dollars each.”

At press time the trial was still raging.

Stay tuned.


Full Disclosure:  Naja Girard is a Director on the Board of Last Stand



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  1. I tried to PRINT your excellent cartoon , because I wanted to paste it around town for tourists and citizens and tourist industry types to see and understand. Some do not have a clue you know. Looks like it cannot be printed and that’s a shame because it says a lot. Can you fix that please? Great article too.
    Meanwhile the County and FKAA are trying to start up THEIR shallow wells to dump all theirs into Cudjoe Bay when we know the effluent is going to bubble up right there and other places yet unknown. Stupid and stubborn and we need to stop that too.

  2. Did anyone else notice when Kirk Zuelch talked on 104.1 US1 Radio last Thursday about sending Key Haven’s wastewater to either the Key West plant or the KWRU Stock Island plant?

    Key Haven’s pipes are so leaky that FKAA did not need to run auxiliary pumps when the lift station pumps quit. They just let the raw sewage leak out of the pipes instead of the letting the tidal seawater leak in!

    Yes, Key Haven is really just one long horizontal cesspit below tide level, but it is still called central sewage collection and touted as what is needed to save the Keys waters. Not that all central systems are terrible, just as not all on-site systems are terrible. And don’t believe for a moment that AWT treatment plants consistently do a wonderful job of removing nutrients. That is only on the good days. On the bad days, not much treatment happens at all- it is basically just diluted with rainwater. Sort of like a really expensive combined stormwater-sanitary sewer reminiscent of medieval London.

    Did you also catch that FKAA is in negotiation to purchase the KWRU Stock Island plant? A publicly owned treatment plant is not held to the same standards as a privately held plant. For example, they can accept some wastes denied to a private plant, and are typically not fined for violations. And as we have seen with state agency FKAA and state agency DEP, absolutely anything goes when it’s consensual. But it is the unwilling public getting screwed.

    Why is it that hundreds of thousands in legal fees have been spent in the last two years fighting against legitimate environmental concerns resulting from cut-rate sewer solutions? Wasn’t protecting the environment the excuse for all the high tech, power intensive sewer systems?

    1. Re: your last two sentences, there is no rational answer, only the usual suspects that plague mankind: Greed, pomposity, stubbornness, apathy, hypocrisy, negligence, ignorance, depravity, Orwellian groupthink…
      As Ansel Adams observed decades ago: “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” But a sand-grain of progress has emerged: at long last a blind-to-the facts commissioner has apparently stopped bleating that “I trust our engineers.”

  3. Bart Smith told me years ago, that his parents bought the sewerage treatment plant and the golf course on Stock Island, because they wanted to use the nutrient rich “treated waste water” to water and fertilize the golf course.

    I told someone just yesterday that Bart looks to me like he is really ill, as in, he has no soul. He has company. It took moving heaven and earth to get the Monroe County Commission to spend the money for a deep injection well for Cudjoe Regional. Even then, I expect to see Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, which built Cudjoe Regional and will operate it, to use the shallow injections wells that were built without any test to determine how shallow injection wells would perform in Cudjoe Regional.

    I hope the administrative law judge in the Stock Island case is not the same administrative law judge who gave Monroe County and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority the green light (green for nitrogen) to inject and infect Cudjoe Regional, just a few miles up US 1 from the MAMMON SMITH KINGDOM, with E-1 grinder pumps, which FKAA’s Board of Directors, in my and quite a few other civilians’ presence, said FKAA didn’t want to use; FKAA preferred gravity sewerage collection, the FKAA Board said, and would provide it if the County Commission gave FKAA the money to do it, which, of course, didn’t happen.

  4. How sad that NOAA has once again remained mute on yet another sewage treatment plant that will impact the very resources they are charged to protect. After decades of sanctimonious meetings on water quality protection, it is clear that talk is cheap, with resource protection trumped by sycophants, doughnuts and hors d’oeuvres.

  5. Simply more arrogance of the well heeled elite of privilege and their inalienable rights to behave criminally and immorally. As Christine Russel said eloquently and honestly, “Developers are building hundred million dollar hotels on Stock Island. If they want their resorts they should pay to inject the wastewater safely – even if it costs seven of them a million dollars each.”

    Cleaning up and disposing of all that sewage should be factored into the cost of doing business.It would be so nice to see these “developers” act responsibly. It would make for great press and pay off in the long run. That may be the problem right there, the long run doesn’t enter into their quick buck mentality.

    1. Dump the Pumps would agree with you, Scarlet Rose. I agree with you, too. I learned about DEP back maybe 2007. I told Dump the Pumps it was wasting its breath trying to get DEP to do something about E-1 grinder pumps, which Dump the Pumps then learned by trying to get DEP to follow its own rules and procedures.DEP is like the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, FDLE, which protect and serve cops agency the Charles Eimers case proved to be a joke. NOAA (the Sanctuary steward) has not impressed me, either. NOAA should have been all over Cudjore Regional and the Big Coppit sewerage fiascoes. Last Stand should have gone after F-1 grinder pumps, as well as against shallow injection wells. NOAA wants to release dirty water back into the Everglades, at least that was NOAA’s position at a public meeting maybe 2 years ago. NOAA’s regional direction, Billy Causey said so, and that the Glades would clean up the dirty (chemicalized) water, before it left the Glades and reached the Bay of Florida. The other scientists who presented said they had a way to clean up the dirty water before it was released into the Glades: run dirty through dirt traps they would build. I tried my darndest, from the floor, and talking with the scientists off to the side during the meeting, to get them to convince me, and the audience, they could clean up all that dirty water. I kept raising my hand later, during citizen questions and comments, and the woman lawyer from Everglades Law Center, who was hosting that part of the meeting, kept looking at me and then giving someone else in the audience the nod to speak. I chewed Billy Causey out, one one one, after the meeting. I wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers official, who was in charge of whether or not the Corps would go along with NOAA, which, it was announced in that public meeting, the Corps was not agreeable with NOAA, and told her what I had witnessed at the NOAA meeting, and that I did not believe NOAA had a way to clean up that dirty water, and that it was ludicrous for Causey to say the Glades would clean the dirty water up before it reached the Bay of Florida. I wrote to her after I had spoken at length with Joel Biddle, who used to work for the Sanctuary, and who knew Causey, and who was at the public meeting, and who was really not happy with what Causey had said during the meeting. Also, I tried my darndest to persuade Naja, who then was President of Last Stand, which I believe co-hosted the public meeting, perhaps not, to included Brian LaPointe, PhD, a well-known water scientist, on the panel of scientists, because I knew LaPointe would say dirty water passing through the Glades in years past had wreaked havoc in the Bay of Florida, and had made its way into and through the Keys and onto the reef, and had killed much of the reef. LaPointe had told me that himself.He had presented his views to the Key West City Commission earlier that year, at the request of City Commissioner Jimmy Weekly. LaPointe used a slide show and aerial infra red photos showing the chemical contaminants south Florida rivers were bringing into the Bay of Florida, migrating from there down to the Keys and onto the reef. Naja told me LaPointe already had his say, now it was Causey and his team’s time to have their say. I said that wasn’t the reason for not inviting LaPointe. If he had been on the scientist panel, Causey would have not liked it. They were open adversaries. Causey might not even have participated. During the presentation, Causey said there is no evidence that chemicals from the mainland injured the reef. LaPointe,had he been there, would have disagreed, strongly. When I talked with LaPointe after the NOAA meeting, by phone, and told him what Cause had said about the Glades cleaning up the dirty water, LaPointe said Causey was wrong. When I said the other scientists had said they have the technology to clean up the dirty water, before releasing it into the Glades, LaPointe said they didn’t have the technology to do that, and dirty water should not be released into the Glades. Me, personally, I don’t see a solution. Right now, the dirty water is being funneled to the east and west coasts, through canals, and is wreaking havoc there, especially with the manatees, because the dirty water is killing the sea grasses they eat, and they are trying to eat the red sea grass, which likes the chemicals, and is what causes the red tide, and that grass is toxic to the manatees, is killing them, and the dirty water is causing other problems on the east and west south Florida Coasts. Obviously, the solution is to stop dirty water from being made by Big Sugar, farming, golf courses, pretty green yards, etc., which use chemical fertilizers. Perhaps by the time the dinosaurs return, that will have happened? Or maybe the seas rise 100 feet and resolve the matter. Or the planet quickly shifts on its axis, and humans go the way the dinosaurs went. Meanwhile, down here in this little asteroid belt, the Key West Golf Course needs its fertilized semi-treated waste water, and the Smith family needs it’s US Constitution guaranteed right to property and profit therefrom, and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the Monroe County Commission want to use shallow injection wells in Cudjoe Regional, to keep their lovely F-1 grinder pumps company, until the deep injection well is dug and operational, while NOAA and the various other Keys federal wildlife and ocean preserves snooze – zzzzzz. Back to the planet axis shift. Or a string of Category 5 hurricanes in the Keys and south Florida. A long string.

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