Local Government Sewer Spills in the News
These stories appeared in Florida Politics on February 25, 2020 and and March 2, 2020, and are required reading for anyone interested in the truth about Florida’s water quality problems.
February 25, 2020 –
March 2, 2020 –
Who are the Real Polluters?
For over ten years. local governments have considered and often passed local ordinances banning the application of fertilizer on lawns and landscapes, primarily in the summer growing season (June, July, August and September). EREF was initially created in those early days to speak out against the junk science used to justify these bans. Unfortunately, local elected officials have found it easy to pass these one-size-fits-all ordinances that punish green industry professionals rather than to reveal one of the root causes of Florida’s nutrient impairments – namely their own sins.
For decades local governments dumped their sanitary sewer wastewater, loaded with nutrients, directly into Florida’s waters with impunity. For more decades, many of those same local governments neglected those systems in terms of their age or their capacity, leaving them vulnerable to breaks, spills and flood-related discharges. Talk about the need for a rainy season ban – how about NO FLUSHING FOR FOUR MONTHS. Also, for decades, many local governments failed to implement Advanced Water Treatment upgrades to their systems, which alone would have dramatically accelerated water quality improvements. In the March 2nd story above, Senator Joe Gruters is quoted as saying “…government is one of the worst polluters overall“.
So why the neglect and hand-sitting? We have a theory called “Local Control Means Blaming Others”.
Before anyone goes crazy, we support local control in most cases. Locals know what’s best for them – again, in general. However, this is a highly technical and very very expensive problem, and while local utilities have smart people on staff, funding must come from elected officials who (spoiler alert) don’t like raising rates or taxes, especially around election time. The unfortunate result is that band aids and bull feathers rule the day. And, oh yes, the scapegoating of others like the experienced and trained professionals in the green industry who provide and protect urban greenspaces – some of natures best filters. Punishing the innocent is never justifiable and it’s never good public policy.
These spills, and the mindset that causes them, are an epidemic in Florida. They happen ALL THE TIME. You haven’t heard as much about them as you should because the news often gets released in the dark of night, and the regulatory consequences of spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons on raw sewage and wastewater into sensitive systems is sometimes only A FEW HUNDRED BUCKS (see Alachua County’s GRU). That’s a pretty sweet deal, don’t you think? Even larger fines, while better, belie the massive costs of the neglected maintenance they reflect.
Can you imagine the outrage that would follow if PICK-A-NAME LANDSCAPING made such a discharge? Of course you can – and the hypocrisy is epic.
Fortunately, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection usually steps in and forces the issue. Elected officials can then conveniently blame the state for what they failed to do when it should have been done and when it would have been much more affordable. Maybe even lobby for a bailout. Very discouraging.
The conclusion? For starters, there needs to be a statewide policy on fertilizer management to replace the jurisdictional chaos that now exists, and it needs to be based on real peer-reviewed science. Ultimately, the overdue improvements to local infrastructure will just have to be made as well. It looks now like the Legislature is getting wise to the shortcomings of local control on water quality management, particularly as it relates to sewer spills and septic, and are stepping in to make things better. We really hope it goes somewhere.
The origins of EREF date back to some of the very first summertime fertilizer blackouts in Florida. As you know, many local governments believe that eliminating ALL fertilizer applications during the summer will result in improved water quality, particularly if they have impaired or polluted water bodies. However well-meaning these ordinances may be, they do not square with the evidence and are likely more harmful that beneficial.
EREF’s approach to fighting these ordinances has evolved and can be summarized in the following bullets:
- EREF supports the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) updated Model Fertilizer Ordinance, as well as the findings in its comprehensive fertilizer study which can be found at this link. https://wfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/turfgrass-science/nutrient-management-research/fdep-funded-study/
- The fertilizer blackout ordinances are not supported by FDEP, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), any of the State’s water management districts, nor any academic/research institutions.
- While exemptions to the summertime blackouts exist in many of the ordinances for certain industry stakeholders, it is false comfort – the blackouts erode public confidence in industry best practices across the board.
- There is ZERO peer-reviewed evidence of adverse impacts resulting from properly-applied urban fertilizer, and considerable peer-reviewed evidence supporting its safe and sustainable application by professionals and BMP-trained homeowners.
- There is ZERO evidence of benefit to any of the jurisdiction who HAVE adopted blackouts. In most cases, other causalities have been clearly identified including septic discharges and others unrelated to urban fertilizer.
In an effort to minimize the adverse impacts of the blackouts and to support the universal goal of protecting water quality in Florida, EREF has taken the following position in recent public hearings:
- EREF believes blackout ordinances can serve two beneficial purposes – to educate the public about the proper application of fertilizer, and to reduce the potential impacts associated with those who do not follow best practices, specifically those who fertilize driveways and sidewalks, and who blow grass clippings into storm drains.
- Exemptions for BMP trained professionals are earned, appropriate and should be immediately extended to licensed lawn-care professionals in many jurisdictions where only golf, sports turf and farming are currently exempted.
- Regardless of exemptions, blackout periods should coincide with dormant/cooler months and not be imposed during the active growing season for plants and turf. Legislating that fertilizer can only be applied outside of the growing season serves to dramatically increase the likelihood of adverse consequences resulting from reduced take up by plant materials in or near dormancy.
This simple approach is an important first step in conforming public policy on managed greenspaces to the clear and convincing evidence. Amending existing ordinances to extend exemptions to licensed lawn-care professionals is a key EREF strategy, along with resisting any expansion of summertime blackouts elsewhere in the state.
EREF’s efforts extend beyond these issues as well. Please follow EREF on Twitter @EREFlorida, on Facebook @EREFlorida, and please support your industry by making a donation on our website at www.EREFlorida.com/support.
Lakeland, Florida / January 18, 2016 – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (“EREF”) and Carraway Consulting announced today the appointment of Mac Carraway as its consulting Executive Director. Mr. Carraway is a 23-year veteran of Florida’s agricultural and green industries and is the President of Carraway Consulting in Bradenton, Florida.
Acting EREF Board of Directors Chairman Mac Briley of ValleyCrest in Orlando, Florida, detailed the announcement. “Mac [Carraway] has been involved with EREF since its inception, and was its first Chairman until accepting this appointment as EREF’s Executive Director. The Board felt it was the logical next step to have Mac formally assume these responsibilities to help EREF further its mission in 2016 and beyond.”
Mr. Carraway has a long history in environmental and water management issues related to agriculture and the green industries. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) Agricultural Advisory Committee and is a two-time gubernatorial appointee to its Manasota Basin Board. He is a past Chairman of the Florida Turfgrass Association and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and has served on numerous water conservation and water quality organizations including the Florida Chamber of Commerce Water Task Force.
Mr. Carraway stated, “I’m looking forward to 2016 for EREF in this new role. We have a critical and exciting mission of education, outreach and advocacy for those in the lawn care, turfgrass, golf, sports and landscape industries. These industries are made up of great people and great organizations that are absolutely determined to continuing their decades-long commitments to sustainable and responsibly maintained greenspaces. I am very proud to represent them and grateful for this opportunity”.
The Environmental Research & Education Foundation is a non-profit industry association located in Lakeland, Florida. Its mission is to protect Florida’s environment and natural resources through the funding of environmental research and the sharing of sound scientific findings on the environmental and human-health benefits of properly maintained greenspaces and urban landscapes.
Carraway Consulting is a financial and agribusiness consulting firm located in Bradenton, Florida.