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. Overfeeding is bad and underfeeding is bad. Since the limits being
set by EPA are a statistical mean, it stands to reason that all water bodies
will be either overfed or underfed.
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, a registered professional
engineer, serves as general manager of
Destin Water Users Inc., a member-owned water and wastewater utility in Destin,