Miami-Dade is working on a plan to clean up Biscayne Bay | Florida News

By ALEX HARRIS, Miami Herald

MIAMI (AP) — Biscayne Bay is in dire straits, with several fish killed in recent summers, disappearing seagrass beds and climate change turning up the heat on Miami-Dade’s blue gem.

Now, for the first time, Miami-Dade County is developing a formal, state-controlled plan to clean up its act and restore the bay. He hired a consultant and set a self-imposed deadline of September to deliver a plan for the state to tackle the dirtiest tape in the bay.

If Miami-Dade achieves that goal, it could get state grants this year to move dirtier septic tanks to sewer lines, a major problem made worse by rising seas.

The decision to pursue a “reasonable assurance plan” to clean up the bay is the first concrete step taken by the twin commissions – one county and one state – established last year to tackle rampant pollution in the Biscayne Bay.

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If this sounds like deja vu, it’s because these groups are the latest in a series of task forces, expert groups and commissions that have been going on for decades and arrive at the same Conclusion: Biscayne Bay is too polluted, and someone has to fix it.

The difference is that this time the county will have the state watching over its shoulder. Or at least, that’s the idea. After decades of inaction and declining water quality, advocates fear the state will hold the county accountable for its new promises.

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Under this type of plan, which has been used from Tampa to the Keys, the county decides where and how to begin the daunting cleanup.

“The county is setting our own goals and we’re working toward our own goals, rather than the other way around and being told what to do,” Miami-Dade Bay Chief Officer Irela Bagué told the board Wednesday. County Biscayne Bay Watershed Management Advisory.

If the county doesn’t meet its goals, the state could add new projects to the list.

“We don’t want to say, ‘Oh, you haven’t reached your 5-year goal,'” Adam Blalock, Florida’s assistant secretary for ecosystem restoration, told the Miami Herald. He said the idea was to create a “collegiate” atmosphere to achieve water quality goals.

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But bay defenders fear the approach is too soft. The state and county don’t have the best track record when it comes to cleaning up Biscayne Bay. This new strategy – called RAP or Reasonable Assurance Plan – replaces a process that should have happened years ago.

When the state’s water bodies start showing signs of pollution, Florida is supposed to investigate them. If things get worse, the body of water is officially declared “impaired,” as Biscayne Bay was in 2017.

After that, the state sets standards for the amount of pollution allowed, known as the total daily maximum load. The next step is a plan to clean up that water, a basin management action plan or BMAP.

In many places in Miami-Dade County, that never happened.

“We have waterways across the county that are blocked every step of the way. We’ve had waterways that haven’t met water quality standards for years and years and the next step in the regulatory process just never got started,” said Rachel Silverstein, Miami Waterkeeper.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how it plans to enforce the new water quality standards, and Miami-Dade staff said that he didn’t know if the state had ever punished the county for failing to meet state standards. already in place.

Silverstein said his organization, like other Biscayne Bay advocacy groups, wants assurances from the state that it will make sure Miami-Dade delivers on its promises for cleaner water.

“Whether it’s a BMAP or a RAP, we will look to see if the results of the plan are measurable and implementable,” she said. “After long periods of inaction on water quality issues for the bay, we need to finalize this plan.”

Some of the biggest (and most expensive) projects on this future list will be to convert the thousands of leaky septic tanks that line the county’s waterways into sewer lines. Human waste, washed out by torrential rains and rising sea levels, overloads the canals, rivers and bay with too many nutrients, polluting the water and harming marine life.

The county doesn’t have the money to solve this multi-billion dollar problem on its own. He wants some of the money Florida has set aside to convert septic systems across the state. Last year, Miami-Dade didn’t get a dime because it didn’t have a state-approved plan to clean up the bay.

Now he’s racing to make sure that’s the case before grants reopen. In hopes of meeting that deadline, Miami-Dade is only developing a cleanup plan for one part — a very small, very dirty — part of the bay.

County officials said they have yet to pinpoint an exact location, but the general area is near the mouth of the Little River.

“The assumption we made was that the smaller the RAP area, the faster we could do it,” said DERM’s Pamela Sweeney.

It’s a high-speed timeline. The smallest RAP that exists in Florida covers Mosquito Lagoon, a 116 square mile slice of coastal waters off Volusia County. It took three years to set it up.

Miami-Dade aims to be finished in less than six months. It also makes defenders anxious.

“Most successful RAPs are developed over several years with sound scientific studies identifying the pollution loads of each contributor and many stakeholders. While we welcome a plan being developed, this timeline is aggressive,” said Silverstein: “It’s critical that these critical elements of the process, which are critical to meeting water quality standards, are not overlooked along the way.

DERM’s Sweeney said she was confident the narrow limits of the plan would help speed things up. Most of the data they need has already been collected, and she expects the first version of the RAP to only include partnerships with neighboring towns, not corporations or businesses that are also polluting the space. .

“I am an eternal optimist. We still can’t make a promise except to say we’re going to do everything we can as quickly as possible,” she said.

At the same meeting, the county also announced plans to install new filter systems at three locations near Little River as part of an experiment to clean water contaminated with fertilizer, oil and of animal waste flowing into the bay. Each of the three projects uses different filtering technologies and costs around $250,000. However, this money is not yet in the bank. The county hopes state grants will cover the test.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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