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Monday, February 26, 2007

Since Marco Island is Planning Injection Wells ...

EPA to Permit Florida to Pollute
Drinking Water Supplies

By Donald Sutherland

Before EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman resigned from her office she had decided to sign off on a rule-making decision drawn up by EPA water administrators declaring Florida exempt from certain provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Published in the Federal Register on May 5, 2003, the exemption will permit Florida to legally pollute drinking water aquifers with inadequately treated waste through municipal underground injection control (UIC) wells.

The problem the EPA administrators were and are still reviewing arose when the federal agency advised the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in the late seventies to initiate a program of disposal of municipal sewage and industrial waste by injection underground via deep injection wells.

A Fortune 500 engineering consulting firm, CH2M Hill, had assured all parties the deeply injected underground waste effluent would be contained by a geological barrier and not commingle with drinking water aquifers.

The injected sewage and industrial waste would also harmlessly be disposed of in deep saline aquifers and then migrate into coastal waters.

Since the time the EPA gave the OK for the underground injection of sewage and industrial waste over one hundred and twenty Class 1 UIC wells have been built to service the bulging unfettered growth in south Florida.

FDEP officials estimate the flow of injected waste at over 400 million gallons daily (mgd) but environmental groups contend it is closer to 1 billion MGD.

However, there is a big containment problem.

EPA and FDEP monitoring tests in the nineties and this year have shown the UIC waste is migrating upward into aquifers the region relies on for drinking water.

U.S. Geological Society (USGS) tracer studies of injection wells in the Florida Keys have also shown bacteria, viruses, and nutrient loading from migrating UIC sewage waste are contaminating tourist beaches and destroying the nutrient sensitive fragile coastal reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Coral choking algae, fish and marine mammal killing harmful algal blooms (HABs), and dying sea grass beds are all associated with nutrient loading from sewage waste.

Government officials admit these events are occurring where sewage waste injected into Florida's underground sources of drinking water (USDW) is migrating into coastal waters.

Federal and state governments have secured no funding to study the health implications of the nation's largest violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the environmental impact of municipal UIC waste migration into coastal waters.

The tourist, recreational, and resort industries have not expressed a concern with the economic impact of UIC pollution even though beach closings due to bacteria contamination and HABs have increased since the inception of municipal UICs.

Florida's building, housing, and construction industries endorse the continuation of a sewage disposal process that is less expensive than building advanced wastewater treatment plants with treated effluent reuse facilities.

Communities and residents of most of south Florida's counties have not repealed the expansion of municipal injection wells and have not expressed a health concern with the practice.

Only Pinellas County has decided to plug failed UIC wells and replace them with an extensive wastewater reuse program.

All of Florida's government representatives, officials, and agencies have endorsed south Florida's loosely permitted UIC disposal.

Although two Democratic state legislators this year proposed legislation to have a stricter accounting of UIC permitting, the proposal failed to be considered.

All this, even though Florida's UIC municipal waste disposal program is banned in other states because it is viewed as a health and environmental threat.

"There is no short term solution to the municipal Class 1 UIC fluid migration into underground sources of drinking water (USDW) in Florida," says Nancy H. Marsh, program manager for EPA Region 4 Ground Water UIC section.

"Municipalities are reliant on these injection wells and they can't be shut down," she says.

Only two environmental organizations, the Florida Sierra Club and Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF), have mounted a campaign to oppose the nation's largest violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the UIC destruction of Florida's marine ecosystems.

"The Sierra Club's Florida Chapter has been rebuffed by the state in a call for transparency of the state's underground injection control program that would enhance the public right to know," says Alan Farago, the organization's Miami Conservation Chair.

"Governor Bush and FDEP Secretary Struhs failed to support a proposal which sought simply to account for the massive pollution of underground aquifers in Florida," he says.

So far there are no lawsuits being brought against the EPA, FDEP, or any local utility authority.

A regional EPA official who walked out of the DC headquarters rule reversal sessions on Florida's UIC program says, "The big question is, is the EPA violating the federal law National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with this action?"

NEPA requires all federal agencies to integrate environmental values in their rule-making processes which consider environmental impacts of their proposed actions and give reasonable alternatives to those actions. The act also mandates a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for these rule-making processes.

A bigger question according to the same EPA regional official is what is the legal precedent set by this EPA rule change of the Safe Drinking Water Act to accommodate a state's noncompliance with a national law to safeguard the public and the environment.

©Donald Sutherland 2003


"Underground Injection Control Program--Revision of Underground Injection Control Requirements for Class I Municipal Wells in Florida; Notice of Data Availability" [Federal Register: May 5, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 86)]


"Underground Injection Control Regulations for Class V Injection Wells, Revision; Final Rule" [Federal Register: December 7, 1999 (Vol. 64, Number 234)


"Revision to the Federal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Requirements for Class I-Municipal Wells in Florida; Extension of Comment Period" [Federal Register: September 1, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 171)]


"Notice of Stakeholder Meeting on the Revision to Federal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Requirements for Class I--Municipal Wells in Florida" [Federal Register: June 7, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 108)]


EPA News Release: "EPA Proposes Revision to Federal Requirements for Wastewater Disposal in Florida," July 7, 2000.


National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) website


Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Water Resources" website


"Underground Injection Control" of Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Water Resources" website


"Wastewater" section of Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Underground Injection Control Program website


"Vulnerability of Biscayne Aquifer to Contamination," U.S. Geological Survey


"Determination of Groundwater-Flow Direction and Rate Beneath Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, and Reef Tract," U.S. Geological Survey


Pinellas County Utilities Update


"Harmful Algal Blooms," National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science website


"Issues: Safe Drinking Water," Florida Chapter, Sierra Club


"What are we doing to our drinking water?" - Miami Group, Sierra Club


Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation, Inc.


"Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches," July 2002, Natural Resources Defense Council


"Underground Injection Control," Environmental and Land Use Law Section of The Florida Bar



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