The headlines lately regarding our Florida Department of Environmental Protection and how it is monitoring the safety of our drinking water are all bad. Just recently we had to fight to avoid increasing the amount of toxins allowed (a battle we lost) and now this.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER works nation-wide with government scientists, land managers, environmental law enforcement agents, field specialists and other resource professionals committed to responsible management of Americas public resources.
During the current total lack of environmental leadership in Tallahassee, PEER has discovered alarming facts regarding our drinking water in Florida.
Read the original article in Florida Today at this link.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
FLORIDA TODAY 3:45 p.m. EDT
August 17, 2016
Nonprofit blasts Florida drinking water enforcement
More than one in eight public water systems in Florida have pollution-related violations, many involving chemical or fecal contamination that can pose health risks, according to a new report by a nonprofit government watchdog group.
But water enforcement under Gov. Rick Scott has dried up to “almost undetectable levels,” says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
In its report, entitled “Don’t Drink the Water – Collapse of Florida’s Safe Drinking Water Enforcement Program,” PEER examined data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees drinking water.
“It’s unmistakable, it’s just like a roller coaster that never goes back up,” Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who analyzed the figures, said of DEP’s enforcement efforts.
PEER’s report found:
- Almost 700 of 5,300 public water systems in Florida are out of compliance with safe drinking water rules;
- Of the 1,842 violations in 2014, 295 were for excessive coliform, disinfection byproducts, organic and inorganic compounds, radionuclides and other contaminants. The remaining violations were monitoring and reporting violations;
- DEP opened only five enforcement cases in 2015 and assessed fines in only two;
- Both the number of enforcement cases and the amount of penalties assessed has plummeted since 2010. The number of assessments in potable water cases dropped from 141 in 2010 to only two;
- The amount of fines assessed plunged from abut $250,000 in 2010 to $12,000 last year.
DEP officials defended their record of enforcement and monitoring of drinking water, saying the agency has adopted federal water drinking water regulations and other more protective state requirements to implement the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
“The number one priority for the department is to make sure our drinking water systems are being properly monitored and that any concerns are identified and corrected as quickly as possible,” Dee Ann Miller, spokeswoman with DEP said via email. “Where there is an exceedance of a drinking water standard, facilities are required to increase their monitoring frequency. The Department closely monitors the subsequent results to ensure the system returns to compliance, and also makes these results available to the public.”
But Phillips worries about a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to delegate more of its responsibilities under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to DEP, based upon Florida’s 2013 application for more authority.
“Frankly, EPA’s abdication of its state oversight responsibilities is a big factor facilitating the utter evaporation of eco-enforcement that we have seen in Florida under Governor Scott,” Phillips said in a media release, citing summaries of DEP’s enforcement compiled annually by PEER. “Now would be the absolute worst time to suspend federal oversight of Florida’s very sick safe drinking water program.”
PEER cited toxic algal blooms, saltwater intrusion driven in part by sea-level rise and depletion of groundwater aquifers as rising threats to clean water.
“The number of potable water assessments has declined steadily since 2010 to a point that it is all but nonexistant in Florida,” PEER’s report states. “This is the worst performance in the Department’s history dating back to 1988. None of the districts improved their performance in 2015. Only one, the South District, managed to equal the number of assessments that it had in 2014.”
Earlier this year, Cocoa’s supply — which serves about 80,000 connections in central Brevard County, including Kennedy Space Center, Port Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base — had a violation after the water tested at an annual running average for certain disinfection byproducts of 83.6 parts per billion. Violations occur when the running average of quarterly tests tops 80 parts per billion. One part per billion is comparable to an ink drop into an Olympic-size swimming pool.
The city was not fined and the city took steps to bring the byproducts down to acceptable levels.
The byproducts form when disinfecting chemicals such as chlorine are added to kill the much more acute health threat from viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Disinfection byproducts form when residual chlorine reacts with rotting leaves, algae or other organic matter.
Last year, DEP recorded 180 drinking water systems in Florida that exceeded the maximum limit of disinfection byproducts, according to a recent DEP report on 2015 drinking water violations. But few, if any systems get fined. Instead, the agency issues consent orders that spell out deadlines for water operators to fix the problem, or face penalties ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per day for not complying with the orders.