Over the past several years, Floridians have seen more than their share of disasters. Hurricanes, recession and an ecological disaster of monumental proportions have dealt severe blows – but the economic devastation of these events pale in comparison to the manmade disaster looming on our horizon.
As we struggle to recover from losses measured in millions and billions, bureaucrats in Washington are preparing to up the ante with new regulations that only Floridians will have to meet – and it will cost us more than a trillion.
It is a complicated issue, but if Floridians don’t take the time to understand the threat and speak up, the bottom line is fairly simple. Your monthly water bills will increase by 100 percent or perhaps even more – and your property taxes will go through the roof.
The increase stems from a new rule being imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring any discharge to a water body to meet strict numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus levels. No one disagrees that limits on nutrients are important to the health of a water body — but despite years of research in Florida and across the nation, scientists have not figured out what those limits should be. The relationship between nutrients and water bodies is too complex for a precise determination of a concentration that fits all water bodies.
Unfortunately, the lack of any scientific basis isn’t stopping the EPA from imposing costly restrictions on the State of Florida. Stymied by the use of science, they have decided to use a statistical approach. They analyzed the water of streams appearing to be healthy, determined the average value of nitrogen and phosphorus for those reference streams, and set those levels as the new standard everyone in the state must meet.
It would be nice to think the money spent to meet the standard would pay off in improved water quality. But the rules, as currently crafted, could very well do more harm than good. Nutrients cannot be treated like any other pollutant. Nutrients are food and they have to be dosed properly. Over feeding is bad and under feeding is bad. Since the limits being set by EPA are a statistical mean, it stands to reason that all water bodies will be either over fed or under fed.
Based on the proposed rule that EPA will enact in October of this year, the only method of extracting nutrients from discharges will be reverse osmosis. Wastewater treatment facilities will be required to first make sure their facilities all meet advanced wastewater treatment (AWT) standards and then they will be required to install a new reverse osmosis plant to treat the discharge from their AWT plant. Storm sewers and drainage ditches will need to have their flows redirected to a reverse osmosis plant for treatment.
The costs of this effort for the entire State of Florida will be well over a trillion dollars. For some reason EPA does not understand this. To bring this number into perspective, monthly utility bills will likely double. But more far reaching, property taxes will have to quadruple. All these costs are verifiable – and only result in treatment of point sources that account for a fraction of the nutrient load entering our water bodies. The major sources of nutrient discharge into our water – runoff from yards, discharge from wetlands, atmospheric deposition, septic tank discharge and water flowing into Florida from other states – will not be reduced in any way under the new rule.
Even more troubling is that EPA is abandoning a proven method for addressing nutrient loads. For years, the State of Florida has followed the EPA mandate to methodically examine water bodies to determine specific characteristics and needs, and then establish programs to improve water quality. It works, people have faith in it, and it represents a point of community pride wherever it has been used.
Now, EPA wants to abandon it all for a prescriptive and draconian move that will not and cannot improve the water quality of all water bodies in Florida.
When all is said and done, Florida — and only Florida — will be required to spend upwards of a trillion dollars to comply with the new rule and for this amount may receive nothing – while residents of every other state get a free pass.
Good luck to us all.
Richard F. Griswold
Registered Professional Engineer