Potable Water and Water Quality in South Florida
Old sewage and flood control systems fail during storm surges in Florida, and water overflows onto the streets of major Florida cities. The storm water from those overflows may contain fecal bacteria. Water at Florida beaches must reach over 70 bacteria per 100 ml of beach water (compared to the 35 per 100 ml of water anywhere else in the U.S.) to trigger a health advisory. Florida allows this because South Florida’s treated sewage is pumped three miles out to the Atlantic. Through the hydrological cycle, the wastewater comes back to the potable water system.
Chemicals from industrial sites, farms and lawns are rich in nitrogen and phosphorous. When it becomes run-off it goes into Lake Okeechobee, a drinking water source for Florida. The chemical cocktail is not harmful to humans, but when combined with treated wastewater it causes naturally occurring algae to bloom and produce cyanotoxins that can cause nausea, vomiting and liver failure. The algae blooms cause marine wildlife die, and prevents sunlight from reaching underwater plants in the local food chain. A recent executive order charged Lake Okeechobee managers to release nutrient-rich water through canals in Southeast and Southwest Florida, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. This led to a greater spread of red tide algae blooms.
Municipal solutions for the problem of water quality are plentiful, such as reusing treated wastewater in canals to cool Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant so close to drinking water in Biscayne Bay, to drilling storage wells for wastewater under aquifers in Broward County. Between reducing local government funding for water conservation, changing budget priorities and interference from special interests, it is up to us to keep our water clean!