Swimming in Sewage
By Alan Farago
Across the state of Florida, an oceanic flow of municipal
sewage is injected underground, and also, through shallower
(ASR) wells to "store" stormwater for later
retrieval, treatment and use.
The manipulation of aquifers is a cost of growth. But
it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the final
costs of manipulating aquifers are incalculable.
There are basically two forms of aquifer exploitation
in Florida: Both take advantage of the theory -- supported
by state and federal regulations -- that what is dumped
underground will not move from where it is confined.
In 2001, an angry public caused Gov. Jeb Bush to retreat
from legislation that would have allowed polluted stormwater
to be injected underground. Most people are unaware that
Bush, since then, has blessed the proliferation of aquifer
Most people are not surfers. The surfers believe that
the documented seepage of our dirty water from aquifers
is pushing onto beaches where they surf. That is why they
are getting earaches, skin infections and respiratory
illnesses. Bush and state agencies haven't spent a lot
of energy investigating if they are right.
When the swell is pumping clean waves, everything is
right with the world, but when there is sewage in the
water, well . . . stuff floats, dude.
The governor might want to talk with Tom Warnke, Surfrider
Palm Beach chapter chair, who says that last year in Brevard
County, surf crashed through red tide and created a mist
so toxic that people had trouble breathing, and "Realtors
didn't want to show prospective buyers property."
Last week, the Surfrider Foundation and Wetlands Alert
shot an arrow across the bow of the Environmental Protection
Agency, suggesting that massive water infrastructure projects
planned by three Florida counties to fuel more growth
cannot use federal funds to drill ASR wells until an adequate
environmental study is performed.
The law requiring protection of the public health and
environment when federal resources are at stake is called
the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Like other
major federal environmental laws, it is under attack by
the Bush White House.
For years, Florida environmentalists have implored Jeb
Bush to tell the public exactly the scope and scale of
aquifer exploitation in Florida, including the disclosure
by FDEP of relevant statistics and the cost of alternatives.
Nada. Test data on ASR wells are guarded as though they
were a state secret.
FDEP is not only stonewalling on data and the illegal
leaking of effluent back upward toward the surface, it
is permitting more and more of these wells. Last year,
new legislation sponsored by Democratic legislators, Rep.
Dan Gelber and Sen. Tony Hill, would have compelled FDEP
to report what it would not voluntarily do. The effort,
proposed by the Sierra Club, was squashed by then FDEP
Secretary David Struhs.
What the Jeb Bush administration has supported, though,
is revising the provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act
regulation that prohibits the migration of injected fluids
into overlying layers. In a real shocker, the EPA says
it will not rule on Florida's request until December 2004,
which is after the presidential election.
Recently, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) issued
a report, "Swimming in Sewage," highlighting
Florida in the context of an emerging national crisis.
According to Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water
Project, "Fortunately we do have the technological
know-how to deal with this sewage problem. What we don't
have is political will. In fact, President Bush's new
budget proposal dramatically slashes funding for wastewater
infrastructure. At nearly $500 million, it's his biggest
cut for any environmental program, and it's indefensible."
So right on, surfriders. Gov. Bush isn't listening to
you, but with each week, he shows the similarities between
his administration and the embattled White House, described
recently by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, as:
"an administration that says whatever is necessary
to get what it wants. When its claims turn out not to
add up, [it] assumes people will just forget what it said
earlier and move on."
What do the surfer dudes know that Tallahassee and Washington
don't? That staph infections don't discriminate by age,
race, or creed; nor does giardia, cryptosporidium, or
other toxics our government is not measuring, because
telling people the facts might, like, just be a bummer,
If the surfers could scrape together enough money for
a massive lawsuit, a federal judge might require the end
to aquifer exploitation in Florida. Think about it: A
court battle could take years to unfold and by 2006, when
Florida will elect a new governor, citizen Jeb Bush might
just want to see what all the fuss is about.