Today’s ruling by Florida Division of Administrative Hearings Judge Bram Canter is a loss for the millions of Floridians and visitors who have a right to clean water.
Lesley Gamble paddles through green slime outbreak on the Santa Fe River on May 22, 2012. (John Moran.)
View photo slideshow of algae outbreaks.
This decision represents yet another failure to address Florida’s worst pollution problem—sewage, manure and fertilizer in our water. These contaminants spur green, slimy toxic algae outbreaks like the one now fouling the Santa Fe and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Our drinking water is at risk, and Floridians can’t use many of our public waters for fishing and swimming. The toxic algae outbreaks can kill livestock and pets, cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse.
“The polluters won today and the people lost. We need to be setting enforceable limits on this pollution, and now that won’t happen. This is a sad day. The state Department of Environmental Protection allowed lobbyists for polluters to write their own rules, and now we are stuck with lame regulations that don’t protect public health,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
“Floridians and visitors are sick of toxic green slime covering our waterways,” Guest said. “We are sick of polluters spewing sewage, manure, and fertilizer into our water. This is a public health threat—this green slime makes people and animals sick, it contaminates drinking water, and it chases tourists away. Seriously—our state health department has pamphlets asking people ‘Have You Been Slimed?’ How can that possibly be good for tourism and the jobs that depend on it?”
The DEP’s proposed rules only require studies after an algae outbreak takes place. No corrective action can be required until the studies are completed, a process that takes five to ten years.
Earthjustice challenged the state’s ineffective rules on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.
“This is a bad day for Floridians and for Florida wildlife,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller. “It is sad, because this pollution really is preventable—we just need to set firm limits on it and enforce them. It’s really common sense.”
The toxic algae outbreaks can be prevented by upgrading aging sewer systems, using smarter fertilizer application techniques and implementing modern manure management on agricultural operations.
“Once again, we see how polluters manipulate the facts and the political system to keep using our public waters as their private sewers,” Guest said. “It is just ridiculous to sit here and watch our so-called environmental protection department continue to ignore this glaring toxic algae plague that’s making people sick. We depend on tourists for our livelihood, and green slime and dead fish are no way to welcome them to their vacation.”
Some 34,000 people have written to the White House so far this year, supporting the stronger proposed limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has indicated it will now defer to the state DEP. The EPA has 30 days to approve or reject the DEP standards.
The 34,000 messages to the White House came in response to a grassroots call to action from several environmental groups.