What Governor Desantis Doesn’t Know Will Continue to Hurt our Waterways

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What Governor Desantis Doesn’t Know Will Continue to Hurt our Waterways

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Photo Credit: Kathy

If you’ve been following along the journey of our founder, Bob Himschoot, you probably know a little about our passion for water quality in Southwest Florida. His experience with wastewater management, the inner workings and legislation surrounding municipal wastewater treatment facilities and septic systems is unparalleled. His deep understanding of our water quality issues in our state has driven Crews Environmental to be among the most ethical and longstanding septic contractors in Southwest Florida  Oftentimes, we are inundated with articles in our inbox that send us lamenting the knowledge of local officials, media and even some of our biologist experts not understanding the full picture when it comes to water quality in Southwest Florida. It was surprising to come across a statement from a recent Fort Myers Beach interview with Governor Desantis, whose campaign in 2018 and actions since have been specifically geared towards water quality in Florida, mention the impact of septic systems and not municipal wastewater facilities on our water quality.

The article, covering a $1.2 billion investment by the state of Florida towards Everglades restoration and water protection resources for next year’s budget, doesn’t make mention of the issues we face when raw sewage finds it way into our waterways, only mentioning septic systems when they state: “There are polluted rivers, septic tank and fertilizer runoff and discharges from Lake Okeechobee and more.”

What’s really polluting Florida’s waterways? And why is no mention being made of what we’re doing to improve public wastewater infrastructure? 

It is because we’re simply not doing anything to improve our wastewater infrastructure? 

We’ve already discussed the recent settlement between the City of Bradenton for their 160 million gallons of sewage that made its way into local waterways over the last 4 years in our article about municipal wastewater facilities

We created a solid rebuttal piece mentioning the Washington Post’s failure to tell the full story regarding climate change and septic systems

If that weren’t enough, the articles and evidence that Florida’s water quality issues are much more significant than a few poorly maintained septic systems just keep pouring in… 

How about the article about pharmaceutical drugs being found in tested bonefish off the coast of Florida?

This is a testament to releases being an issue and effluent not being treated properly before being released in local waterways. A coastal fish ecologist quoted in the article had this to say about the situation, “Pharmaceuticals are an invisible threat, unlike algal blooms or turbid waters. Yet these results tell us that they are a formidable threat to our fisheries, and highlight the pressing need to address our longstanding wastewater infrastructure issues.”

There has not been any mention of how the state plans to address the issues of chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs in our waterways. So often patients flush unused pills down the drain, when what they really need to do is dispose of them properly. No legislation has been presented to add warning labels to drugs to protect our waterways, yet we are pouring billions into the Everglades to restore reactively rather than taking care of this problem at the source. And this issue? It’s a microcosm of so many other issues that we’re dealing with. We blame septic systems, but owners of septic systems traditionally have a good understanding that things they flush can interrupt the biology inside their septic tank that is responsible for the bacterial breakdown of waste, so you’d be hard-pressed to find this issue resulting from septic systems.

Pharmaceutical drugs aren’t the only issue, according to an article from Florida Today, there’s a veritable cocktail of cancer-causing chemical compounds that have been found in the Indian River Lagoon, an area whose water quality issues were scapegoated to septic systems for years. 

Researchers from the University of Florida have been measuring the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances) and have found concentrations up to 4 times the amount allowed in our drinking water in the lagoon. They cite sources like contaminated soil, sewage, reclaimed water biosolids, and countess consumer products. They also mention that the distribution of PFAS is the result of discharge from consumer products and industrial processes, but don’t mention anything about how the products are getting into our waterways – which is via discharges from municipal wastewater facilities. It does mention the impact of the chemicals on alligators, fish and manatees.

Governments seem to continue to drag their feet, failing to implement policies to mitigate these issues, but not hesitating to throw billions of dollars to restore the wetlands they’re annihilating. Even in the Florida Today article, more than $500 million was allocated for PPFAS clean up efforts at military installations, but nothing is being done to mitigate PFAS.

As if boundless chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the water weren’t jarring enough, another advisory in Miami-Dade came as heavy rainfall overwhelmed sewage treatment systems, causing sewage overflows and beach closings. If it’s not safe for you to swim in, how do you think the local wildlife feels about it? 

It’s the same song and dance every single year, as aging infrastructure continues to experience all kinds of pipe bursts, lift station malfunctions, fat bergs, sewage overflows, effluent disbursements and more, joining up with rainy season lake releases to create the perfect storm of water quality issues a state driven by its beautiful waterways. If we cannot see that we must proactively legislate all of these things in tandem to save our waterways, we’re just going to continue to blindly throw the people’s tax dollars towards it while we exacerbate the problem, costing taxpayers more and more money. 

Where are some places we can start? 

  • Warning labels on pharmaceuticals regarding proper disposal.
  • Improvements and tightened up requirements for municipal wastewater facilities.
  • Regulation on fertilizer and lawn chemicals
  • Septic system maintenance incentives and tax credits for home owners.
  • More heavily regulating the use of chemical pesticides in conventional farming.

Too often progress is inhibited by money. If Governor DeSantis really wants to explore what he can do help proactively manage our waterways, we can only hope that he explores a special task force and really gets serious about proactive measures that we can make together to improve water quality in the state of Florida.