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Is the Gulf of Mexico Florida’s Toilet? By Steve Morrell With talk of drilling for oil off Florida’s shores, many were surprised to hear about a recent report titled, “The Gulf of Mexico — Florida’s Toilet,” by the Clean Water Network of Florida ( The head of the organization said that what Florida is already doing to the Gulf of Mexico is 100 times worse than the risk of pollution from offshore drilling. The report gave the following reason that shows a need for such a study: “According to the 2007 EPA Gulf of Mexico National Estuary Program Coastal Condition report, every program estuary on Florida’s gulf shows degradation, with the main culprit cited as being ‘excess nitrogen pollution and stormwater runoff.’ ” The report concentrated on sewage being dumped along Florida’s west coast into the Gulf, and it based its findings on information it gathered in coastal cities and counties from 2003-2008. It called the Gulf “Florida’s toilet” because of the amount of untreated sewage being dumped into it. The report says the cause is sewage treatment facilities that have not kept up with the state’s growth, and that weak laws and lax enforcement have had little effect in controlling the problem.

Is it the boats or the land-based toilets that are spoiling Florida’s waters?

The report discussed many of the problems caused by not only sewage, but land runoff of nutrients into the waters—much of which has been linked to algal blooms, which have a detrimental effect on sea life and humans. The report stated, “The causes of this over-nutrification are many, and include overuse of fertilizers and industrial discharges. However, a significant contributor to this problem is the many millions of gallons of essentially untreated, or poorly treated sewage that is discharged into our surface and ground waters every day.” The report cited another report by a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), that claims payment of fines was the method used to deal with the water pollution—otherwise known as “pay to pollute.” The PEER report also stated that the average penalty has declined by about 60 percent from 2006 to 2007, even though violations increased over that period. What this essentially means is that it is cheaper for a polluter to pay a fine than it is to do anything about the problem. In defense of the existing system, one Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson said that 99.99 percent of all domestic wastewater in the state—1.7-billion gallons a day—is handled “without incident.” No comment was made about the .01 percent, which means that on average, 170,000 gallons a day are handled with incident. The report cited a common misconception the public has about sewage treatment: “The public assumption is that raw sewage is piped to a wastewater treatment plant, and all of its contaminants removed by treatment technology. The reality is that most of Florida’s sewage collection and treatment systems either do not treat wastewater to a high enough standard

Tampa Bay Marina Decision Postponed The fate of the Tampa Bay Marina (see “Our Waterways” in the July issue) was postponed for two months when the Tampa City Council decided at their meeting on Aug. 7 that they did not have enough time to prepare and give serious consideration to the issues involved. The marina case will be heard at another meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 2. Over 30 supporters of the marina showed up in August, and they are hoping to get 75 supporters to show up at the October meeting. 32

September 2008