We are calling on the Army Corps to follow the rules and stop harming our natural resources!

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Permit violations and Endangered Species Act violations threaten the health of Biscayne Bay

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, along with our partners Tropical Audubon Society, Coral Morphologic, Captain Dan Kipnis, Sierra Club Miami Group, and Miami-Dade Reef Rescue, filed a citizens’ notice of suit letter alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act, in addition to several permit conditions by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) during the PortMiami Deep Dredge project. That permit requires that the Army Corps take certain steps to mitigate the environmental impact of the dredging project. The Army Corps has not followed through on a number of these requirements, however, which threatens our water quality, coral reefs, seagrasses and marine ecosystem.

If the Army Corps damages more reef than anticipated, it is Miami-Dade County who must pay for additional mitigation. This would further stretch the resources of an already financially-pinched government body, and would mean that Miami-Dade tax payers must pay twice: foot the bill for the Army Corps’ mess, and have our important marine life destroyed.

How exactly has the Army Corps failed to follow by the rules?

Failure to follow Endangered Species Act procedures

Threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)  Photo credit: Phil Gillette

Threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)
Photo credit: Phil Gillette

The Army Corps identified 10-times the expected amount of threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) in the area before starting construction. However, the Army Corps never obtained the needed documentation from NOAA to address best practices for dealing with additional corals, nor did they transplant, begin monitoring of, or increase protection for, any of these threatened corals in high risk areas. No one knows how these threatened corals are surviving the dredging.

Failure to monitor sedimentation adequately

The sediment blocks used to measure sedimentation by the Army Corps have not been working since Day 1 of the project (which Army Corps acknowledges). Therefore, we have no way to monitor sedimentation, and no baseline data is available for comparison with future monitoring. A chronic exposure abundance of sedimentation can stress and kill corals and seagrasses.

Failure to address significant coral stress

The Army Corps has failed to move its dredge ships away from reef areas when coral stress is noted, as required by their permit. These corals will likely not survive the duration of this project with this level of sedimentation stress. Ongoing, partial coral mortality has already been observed for several months.

Failure to accurately monitor turbidity
The permit requires sampling of turbidity (suspended sediment that makes the water look milky) in the densest part of the turbidity plume.  However, we have found evidence that this is not occurring. This high turbidity is affecting water quality for fishermen, divers, beachgoers, corals and seagrasses from Miami Beach to Key Biscayne.

Failure to prevent sediment from leaking during transportation

UntitledThe hopper barges transport dredged material from the site to an offshore
dumping area. However, we have photographs showing a trail of leaking sediments behind the hopper barge.  These sediments are falling out and covering of a vast area of reef and hardbottom.

In order to stop the significant damage to Biscayne Bay and nearby waters, we are asking only that the Army Corps comply with their permit requirements and follow Federal laws. We are asking for better oversight and enforcement by DEP and more transparency from the Army Corps moving forward.

Join us in standing up for our reefs and natural resources!

Environmental Groups and Concerned Citizens File Notice to Sue U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Endangered Species Act and Permit Violations in the PortMiami Deep Dredge Project

Environmental organizations and concerned citizens join together to protect Miami’s coral reefs from environmental harm during PortMiami Dredging Project

Miami, FL – On July 16, 2014, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, Captain Dan Kipnis, Coral Morphologic, Miami-Dade Reef Guard Association, Sierra Club Miami Group, and Tropical Audubon Society, filed a citizens’ notice of suit letter alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act, in addition to several permit conditions by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) during the PortMiami Deep Dredge project. In its letter, the environmental coalition identified a long list of violations, including that the Army Corps’ contractors are not protecting threatened coral species, allowing excessive amounts of dredge sedimentation buildup on the reefs, not sufficiently monitoring sedimentation, and failing to move dredge ships away from corals that are exhibiting signs of injury or degradation.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has, from the very beginning, failed to comply with even the limited conditions placed on them by their permit,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper for Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “As our local divers, snorkelers, scientists, and fishermen well know, Floridians have already lost over 80% of our coral reefs. These resources are critical for Miami’s economy and culture. We cannot allow the Army Corps to cut corners and continue to harm the little bit that remains of these irreplaceable natural resources.”

Colin Foord, a marine biologist with Coral Morphologic, one of the groups who conducted a “coral rescue mission” in the dredging area, stated, “I know firsthand how vibrant and special these reefs are, and these ‘urban corals’ off of Miami should be treasured and protected. I’ve seen the devastation that the dredging is having over a wide expanse of the natural reef. Everything nearby is getting buried by sediment, and at times when diving, it can be almost impossible to see your hand in front of your face. If it continues like this, many of Miami’s corals will not survive the duration of this project.”

The notice of suit letter alleges that, since the project commenced in November 2013, the Army Corps has failed to comply with a number of requirements – to the detriment of valuable and threatened local marine species. According to the letter, the Army Corps was also well aware that a large number of staghorn coral colonies – a species listed as threatened, but soon to become endangered – were living adjacent to the dredging area. Despite this, the Army Corps made no effort to protect, transport, or monitor these rare and protected corals.

The 2011 DEP permit, issued following a previous challenge by Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, Dan Kipnis, and Tropical Audubon Society, was relatively limited in scope and straightforward in its requirement that the Army Corps take certain steps to mitigate the environmental impact of the dredging project.

“It is DEP’s permit that the Army Corps is violating, and if DEP isn’t going to enforce its rules, we, the citizens of South Florida, will stand up for our own local resources,” said Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society. “Local groups and citizens should not have to spend their time and money making sure that the government follows its own laws.”

These reefs at risk– and the fish and marine life they support – are critical to the survival of Miami’s tourism, diving, fishing, and seafood industries, which are engines for the local economy.

“Once the Army Corps completes the dredging project, it will leave town, leaving South Florida to suffer the consequences,” noted Captain Dan Kipnis, a veteran of multiple actions against the Army Corps projects.

Under the terms of the DEP permit, Miami-Dade County and its taxpayers, not the Army Corps of Engineers, will have to foot the bill for any environmental damage that exceeds the permit’s allowances.

“In an ironic twist, Miami’s taxpayers will suffer a double loss – permanent damage to our invaluable natural resources on the one hand, and a requirement that we pay the cost of the damage on the other,” Silverstein added.

According to the letter filed Tuesday, if the Army Corps does not come into compliance with the Endangered Species Act and if the DEP does not take steps to enforce the permit, at the expiration of sixty days the environmental coalition may then take further legal action, including the filing of a formal lawsuit, to protect Miami’s natural resources.

About Tropical Audubon Society

The Tropical Audubon Society (TAS) is a non-profit organization located in Miami, Florida established in 1947, previous Audubon Chapters have been operating in Miami-Dade for the last 100 years and this conservation  group is the longest running environmental organization in Miami-Dade County.  Their mission is to conserve and restore South Florida’s ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.  As a founding member of the Everglades Coalition, Hold the Line Coalition and the Biscayne Bay Coalition, Audubon strives to activate grassroots action, educate the public on the environment and create action to achieve conservation objectives in South Florida.  For more information and to get involved please visit www.tropicalaudubon.org or call us at 305-667-7337

 About Coral Morphologic

Coral Morphologic exists as a hybrid science-art endeavor that seeks to elevate corals as the new icons for a 21st century Miami. Through their multi-media installations, they aim to captivate and educate the public as they tell the story of Miami’s ‘urban coral’ community. Visit coralmorphologic@gmail.com.

About Sierra Club Miami Group

Sierra Club Miami Group is part of the largest grassroots environmental movement in the US.We have about 2,500 members in Miami Dade and Monroe Counties. Our mission is to protect and enjoy the natural places in South Florida, teach others to understand and respect the fragile environment in which live and to practice and promote the responsible use of South Florida’s ecosystem’s and resources.

See press release as pdf:

0-Port Miami Notice Letter Release-71614

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper Urges Bahamian Government to Prevent Environmental Destruction

Leading Environmental Organizations Join to Protect Bahamian Natural Treasure against Unregulated Development

CONTACT: Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director & Waterkeeper; Rachel@bbwk.org; 844-867-6468

Miami, FL – (July 9, 2014) – Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper joins Waterkeeper Alliance, Save The Bays, and other leading environmental organizations in calling on the Bahamian government to reject a construction application at Nygard Cay, which will cause massive environmental damage and destruction.  Peter Nygard, the applicant, has already illegally expanded his property at Nygard Cay to nearly twice its original size.

“The Bahamian islands are home to so many unique and stunning places,” said Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper at Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “Because the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is our closest geographical neighbor, we recognize that our ecosystems and our people are deeply connected to theirs. Like the Bahamians, therefore, we here in Miami have a vested interest in seeing Nygard Cay protected from unmitigated environmental damage. Like us too, the Bahamian economy is closely tied to its natural resources, in particular, its water. And like our own government, the Bahamian government must act to protect its environment, both for its own sake and for the sake of its tourism industry, its economy, and its people.”

For years, wire structures of rocks, cinder blocks, and debris have been dumped into the area known as Simms Point/NygardCay. While this dumping creates an artificial beach that benefits Nygard’s land, a study by the University of Miami revealed that the dumping has caused significant harm to the local environment. According to the study, the dumping “has changed the marine habitats dramatically within about 100 meters of the shore, with the most notable damage being the loss of reef areas to the west.”

Despite its claims that the dumping is illegal and unpermitted, the Bahamian government is still considering granting Nygard  “a declaration of ownership” for the land that has accreted to his property as a result of his artificial construction. If approved, the Bahamian government would set a precedent that other individuals and corporations can claim public lands and destroy natural habitats. More than five-thousand people have signed a petition calling on Prime Minister Christie and the Bahamian government to enforce the law and protect Crown Land and the sea beds at Nygard Cay.

“We are urging the Bahamian government to protect its precious natural resources and its public lands.” Dr. Silverstein said. “We join the Waterkeeper Alliance, Save the Bays, other leading environmental organizations, and more than five-thousand Bahamians to ask that this permit be denied. We have already lost the vast majority of Caribbean reefs. It’s time we began to value and protect these precious and rapidly disappearing resources before they are gone forever.”

For more information and to sign Save The Bays’ petition, please visit: https://www.change.org/petitions/prime-minister-perry-christie-help-save-the-bays-before-paradise-is-lost

About Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper:

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper (BBWK) is a 501(c)3 non-profit located in Miami, Florida. Launched in January 2011, our goal is to advocate for the Biscayne Bay watershed and its inhabitants, and to empower citizens to defend their right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. Our role is to ensure that Biscayne Bay remains clean and vibrant to serve the needs of both humans and wildlife for generations to come.

Read a PDF of this press release here:

0-BBWK Urges Bahamian Government to Prevent Environmental Destruction

Why are these corals important?

UM Professor, Andrew Baker, working with rescued coral.

UM Professor, Andrew Baker, working with coral rescued from the PortMiami dredging project.

Many corals are being destroying in the PortMiami dredging project. Why do we care about these corals? Prof. Baker, who studies the ability of corals to survive climate change, says that these corals might be significant for research purposes. They are growing in a difficult urban reef environment, and yet still appear to be healthy, while many corals elsewhere are fragile and are dying off rapidly. Studying these corals could provide insight into how to save the rest of Florida’s—and the world’s—declining reefs. (Florida only has a small fraction of the coral that it had in the 1970’s). In a recent Miami Herald article Baker states, “This could be the seed population for climate-tolerant corals, and we’re wiping them out by literally blowing them up.”

Many corals are being destroying in the PortMiami dredging project. Why do we care about these corals? Prof. Baker, who studies the ability of corals to survive climate change, says that these corals might be significant for research purposes. They are growing in a difficult urban reef environment, and yet still appear to be healthy, while many corals elsewhere are fragile and are dying off rapidly. Studying these corals could provide insight into how to save the rest of Florida’s—and the world’s—declining reefs. (Florida only has a small fraction of the coral that it had in the 1970’s). In a recent Miami Herald article Baker states, “This could be the seed population for climate-tolerant corals, and we’re wiping them out by literally blowing them up.” (Miami Herald)

But, there’s another reason why these corals are so important for Miami: coral reefs form a natural barrier against storm surge and flooding. As Miami faces the potential need for billions of dollars of retrofitting for sea level rise, we are, at the same time, destroying a naturally existing barrier that protects us from increasingly intense hurricanes and flood risks.

Why were so many corals left out of the mitigation plan?

In 2011, with the help of our experts, we offered many viable and economical solutions to avoid destruction of so many precious corals. Unfortunately, stuck in outdated protocols, the ACOE refused to do what we, and our experts, believe to be best practices for a project of this kind. The ACOE only agreed to move corals that were in the “direct impact” area, meaning that widening the channel will physically destroy these reefs. This is a relatively small area compared to the vast reefs adjacent to the channel. Corals in the adjacent area are at high risk for being buried by the sediment stirred up during the dredging, or being starved of light by sediment suspended in the water column. (If you’re nearby, you can see the plumes of sediment surrounding dredge ships. You can even see it on Google Earth! This milky water is called “turbidity”).

Barred Hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella) Photo by Evan D'Alessandro

Barred Hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)
Photo by Evan D’Alessandro

The ACOE and DEP also would not remove corals that were growing on the channel walls, although we brought all of this to their attention in 2011. Now, the researchers are also reporting that there are many corals in the path of the dredge. ACOE says that it is DEP’s policy not to do mitigation in an area that has previously been impacted. What does that mean? They say that, in 1991, the last time the PortMiami channel was widened, they had removed corals from the area, so they don’t need to do it again. And the corals that have grown there in the decades since? Too bad. BBWK thinks that it’s time we consider the true value of modified ecosystems too. Corals in modified landscapes deserve the same protection as those living on “natural” reef areas. These are man-made impacts that will affect us and our city long after the ACOE has finished construction and left town.

What do these corals mean for Miami and Florida?

Having coral reefs on our doorstep makes South Florida a unique ecosystem worth visiting, exploring, and studying. Coral reefs provide homes for the fish and lobsters that we like to see snorkeling, eat at restaurants, and catch on a day out on the water. And, reefs protect our fragile coastline. Coral reefs are estimated to support over 71,000 jobs in South Florida, and infuse our economy with hundreds of millions of dollars each year. As Miami grows, smart development includes protecting our natural resources as well as fostering construction projects.

 

I’ve been hearing about a coral rescue mission near PortMiami. What’s going on?

The PortMiami expansion project has been actively dredging since November 2013.

Placing corals rescued from the Port dredging project into their experimental tanks at University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key.

Placing corals rescued from the Port dredging project into their experimental tanks at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key.

In 2011, BBWK, along with our partners, challenged the permit that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was planning to issue to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) because, among many reasons, it did not provide enough protection for our valuable and fragile marine resources, nor did it live up to the laws that the state of Florida had put in place to protect our Bay.

After many intensive months of negotiations, and due to generous support from the community and local experts, we were able to secure better environmental protections in the permit.  However, it’s still far from perfect, and, if we had had more resources, we could have done even more.  According to a recent article in the Miami Herald, “The Corps had originally planned on transplanting only threatened [coral] species, including fragile staghorn. But, after two environmental groups sued in 2011 [that’s us!], Miami-Dade County and the Corps agreed to expand the mitigation….” (read the whole article here. Mitigation is work that attempts to reduce or alleviate damage done during construction project.) The ACOE ended up relocating ~900 coral colonies, including 38 threatened staghorn coral, as required in the permit. Unfortunately, this effort only scratched the surface of the vast coral communities that lie in the path of destruction.

BBWK Executive Director, Rachel Silverstein, working at the nursery that they run that grows threatened staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata) coral in Biscayne National Park.

BBWK Executive Director, Rachel Silverstein, working at the University of Miami’s nursery in Biscayne National Park that grows threatened staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata) coral.

After the ACOE completed their required mitigation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued special permits for scientists and researchers to salvage corals left behind for education and research purposes. Unfortunately, this FWC permit was subject to the whim of the ACOE’s construction schedule, leaving the researchers, who conducted the coral rescue at their own expense, with less than two weeks to carry out their mission. The research divers were able to see first hand how many corals had been left behind, even after the mitigation was complete. Researchers Colin Foord (Coral Morphologic) and Professor Andrew Baker (University of Miami) found, literally, thousands of corals “left over” in high risk impact areas. First, the ACOE refused to expand their mitigation responsibilities in the permit, and then refused allow the researchers enough time to collect the irreplaceable and valuable resources in the path of the deep dredge project.  The ACOE would not alter their dredging schedule by even a single day.

What is BBWK doing about it?

Stephanie Schopmeyer, of the Lirman Lab at University of Miami, working at the nursery that they run that grows threatened staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata) coral in Biscayne National Park.

Stephanie Schopmeyer, of the Lirman Lab at University of Miami, working at the nursery that they run that grows threatened staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata) coral in Biscayne National Park.

BBWK requested an extension of the researchers’ FWC permit to allow them to continue to collect corals from the area.  The request was granted by FWC, but the ACOE has not agreed to modify their dredging schedule to allow the researchers safe access to the reefs.  Undeterred, these researchers are planning to return to the reefs to collect these corals anyway, taking great personal risk and diving near active dredging – in close proximity with ships that have huge, scraping arms and suction so powerful suction it could lift a car. (The divers will coordinate with the dredge ships and the Coast Guard before diving, and feel confident that it can be done safely.)

BBWK is also keeping up to date with the required monitoring and records released by the ACOE about the condition of the corals in the area, signs of coral stress, sedimentation, and turbidity.  We are doing everything we can to make sure that the permit is enforced by DEP, and that no violations are occurring. We want the conditions of the permit that we fought so hard for to be upheld, and for best management practices to be employed.

Furthermore, the blasting phase of the project, which will include 600 blasting days, has not even begun. We are just at the beginning of what will be a long project, and BBWK is here to monitor its progress and to keep you informed the whole way. Watch this space!

 

Great Event This Saturday

This is an amazing opportunity for us to engage in finding real solutions to Miami’s resilience and sustainability issues. Please be sure to register!

Click here for to register: Miami Design Charrette

Help BBWK Keep the Bay Clean in 2014

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2013 has been a great year here at Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper (BBWK). We have been working hard to ensure Biscayne Bay is safe and clean for the residents of Miami-Dade County, for visitors to this beautiful place, and for the fragile ecosystems that call our bay home. Our work can be categorized into three main activities: 1. Awareness Building 2. Community Outreach & Education and 3. Advocacy. Only with your support were we able to do the work we do. We want to take this opportunity to reflect on 2013 and thank you once again. Together, we have much to celebrate!  We are so excited to have been able to accomplish so much in the past year! But there is so much more to do. Please consider pledging your support. Make a year end contribution to Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and help us to continue to fight for clean water in Biscayne Bay. (click here to become a supporter.Donate to Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and give the gift of clean water.

Cleanwaterbb01Awareness Building: Due to your support and foundation grants, BBWK is proud to have increased our voice in the community through a website rebuild and social media campaign. We were able to work with local municipalities, local organization partners and community members to present a clear and coherent voice of concern from the community and keep our online visitors up-to-date with our campaigns, workshops, events and issues around Miami and beyond. As a result, we have increased our community partnerships, increased engagement with the media and most importantly, educated you and members of the public about issues effecting Biscayne Bay and the world’s waters.

Thank you for a successful clean-up

BBWK and Sierra Club Miami teamed up for a great clean up

Community Outreach & Education: A December 2012 appearance at the internationally renowned Art Basel where BBWK was featured in a visual art show during a live music performance, kicked off a strong 2013 of community outreach and education. Strengthening and building our community alliances, members of the BBWK team were guest presenters to a range of local groups including: Dive Bar (lawyers who scuba dive), Kiwanis Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Biscayne Bay Regional Restoration Coordination Team and Sierra Club and the Miami Fellows. In March 2013, BBWK and Sierra Club Miami teamed up for a Biscayne Bay clean up near Coconut Grove, FL. For the second year in a row, BBWK was a sponsor of the REEF alumni fishing tournament at local high school, Ransom Everglades, by securing a donation of biodegradeable boat soap for the BBWK eco-boat wash and creating information graphics listing bay friendly boating and fishing practices to be supplied in the captain’s bags.

SewageBreak5Advocacy: Legal action and advocacy has been a strong component of our 2013 initiatives. After tracking and researching the rampant sewage spills (47 million gallons since 2011), BBWK and a Key Biscayne resident served a notice on Miami-Dade County of their intent to bring suit for Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) violations spanning the past five years against the County. With the help of foundations and individuals, like you, BBWK has been able to hire experts to author  expert reports, which have shown the enormous threat to the resiliency of Miami-Dade’s sewage system in the near and long term. (See our recent blog post to read more about our involvement in the sewage case.) These reports have made the issue of Miami-Dade’s sewage system resiliency over the long term a scientific issue. BBWK has also participated in and authored a range of comment letters, state and national campaigns, including with Florida Waterkeepers, Waterkeeper Alliance, NRDC, National Wildlife Association, Taxpayers for Common Sense and others concerning, for example, toxic coal ash, overfishing, attempts at weakening environmental laws and failure to properly remediate the landfill on Virginia Key. BBWK testified at an FDEP hearing on toxin criteria for an upcoming rule making by Florida’s ERC and BBWK testified in Washington D.C. before the EPA about toxins in Florida’s waterways on behalf of all Florida Waterkeepers.

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Six Priorities to Address Sewage Pollution in Miami

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Why Should We Update Our Sewage Infrastructure?

The threat of projected sea-level rise in the not-too-distant future is not the main reason Miami-Dade County needs to update its sewage infrastructure. The main reasons, which have been here for the past five (plus) years, are illegal raw and treated sewage discharge events which are polluting our watershed.  Miami-Dade County needs to update its system now because of the decrepit state of the system and the danger that large storm surges pose to any coastal city’s infrastructure. The issue of sea-level rise simply ups the ante and amplifies all the current problems and vulnerabilities. The future could present new challenges to our systems.  Looking to sea level rise projections gives us the opportunity to make smart and sustainable improvements that will help us be prepared for these challenges. Sea level rise projections help us determine how vulnerable we are to rising water levels and help us estimate the potential size of storm surge and erosion. It is imperative we use this knowledge to spend our infrastructure investments wisely, efficiently, and with an eye toward the future.

The discussion about sea-level rise is not, “will it happen?” (we already are seeing drastic seasonal tides creating unusual saltwater flooding) but “how much worse will it get?” We cannot, in good faith, move forward with infrastructure improvements that will not help defend Miami-Dade County from devastating flooding and associated corrosion damage.

Hurricane Sandy proved that the catastrophic flooding that we imagine when we think of sea-level rise can happen now. We don’t have to wait fifty years for our seas to rise to see devastating flooding in large metropolitan areas, we can look back one year. Here is the opening paragraph from a New York Times article on hurricane Sandy:

“Over 10 billion gallons of raw and partly treated sewage gushed into waterways and bubbled up onto streets and into homes as a result of Hurricane Sandy — enough to cover Central Park in a 41-foot-high pile of sludge, a nonprofit research group said in a report released on Tuesday.”

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It does not take a broad stretch of the imagination to imagine how bad a similar event would be for low lying Miami. The New York Times article describes how the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant on Long Island was probably the hardest hit. The next time you drive across Virginia Key, take note of how exposed that area is and remember that the sewage treatment plant on that key is one of the main treatment plants for Miami-Dade County. It does not make sense to move forward with infrastructure plans that do not include armoring or raising a treatment plant that sits at sea level.

Let’s not wait until a disaster like hurricane Sandy stirs us into action, let’s act NOW!

 

 

A year of fighting for a sewage free Biscayne Bay

ThunderheadOne year ago Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper (BBWK) along with Miami-Dade County resident, Judi Kolsen, served a notice on Miami-Dade County of their intent to bring suit for Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) violations spanning the past five years against the County. BBWK’s action came twenty years after Miami-Dade County and the EPA had settled on a Consent Decree and broke the record for civil fines levied against the County due to illegal sewage discharges.

Miami-Dade’s sewage system was in dire straights twenty years ago and after all the fines and work done to fix the problems then, the Miami-Dade sewage system, over the past two years alone, has spilled tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage. So here we are negotiating another Consent Decree settlement with the EPA. This time, BBWK, Kolsen and the Miami Dade Water and Sewer Authority Employees Union (Local 121) have joined the enforcement action as parties to the case. For the past year BBWK has been working hard to make sure Miami-Dade County does not continue this trend of negligence towards the people’s sewage system.

With the help of foundations and individuals, like you, BBWK has been able to hire experts to author reports (read the reports here) that have changed the conversation about Miami-Dade’s sewage system. BBWK’s focus has been on stopping the illegal discharge of millions of gallons of sewage into Biscayne Bay and its surrounding waters. The expert reports, commissioned by BBWK, and submitted to Miami-Dade county, the EPA, the FDEP and disseminated to the mayors and commissioners of local municipalities, have shown that the County’s inability to appropriately plan for climate impacts creates an enormous threat to the resiliency of Miami-Dade’s sewage system in the near and long term.

In this past year the national attitude toward sea-level rise has changed substantially. Thirteen days after BBWK filed notice Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast causing 10 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to flood waterways (NYTimes: click here). Large metropolitan areas in New Jersey and New York experienced a huge storm surge and saw first hand the horrors of an infrastructure incapable of coping with substantial saltwater flooding. The cost of the damage has run into the billions of dollars (NYTimes: click here). Coastal cities around the world saw Hurricane Sandy as a wake-up call. The national and local press has covered sea-level rise extensively and the White House has released an Executive Order on “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” (read it here)

Of all the coastal cities in the world Miami has the most to lose in the face of sea-level rise. It does not make sense that we move forward with infrastructure improvements without fully incorporating best management practices and most up-to-date science. Hurricane Sandy showed the nation that issues associated with sea-level rise are on our doorstep. BBWK’s involvement in the sewage case has allowed us to bring this issue to the forefront of Miami’s infrastructure improvements. We hope that we can help Miami become a leader in coastal city infrastructure resiliency programs and save Biscayne Bay from sewage spills.