Biscayne Bay’s new board of directors aims to convert septic tank to sewer

Miami-Dade’s new Biscayne Bay Watershed Management Advisory Council met for the first time this week to help Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Commissioners determine what needs to be done to save the gem of the county crown.

Eighteen members, including water quality scientists, businessmen and elected officials, said they were ready to roll up their sleeves to save the bay from the worsening pollution that has caused the death of fish and the death of vast expanses of seagrass meadows. The council, which will eventually have 21 members, will work on a watershed management action plan to combat sources of pollution and improve water quality in the system.

They also want the county to set stricter limits on nutrient pollution and include other pollutants such as plastic in the list of dirty items that should not be allowed in the bay. This is a daunting task, given that the county still has a long way to go to measure and identify the sources of pollution entering the bay.

At the top of the group’s to-do list is converting septic tanks to sewers, the county’s most expensive plan, but also what scientists see as a key long-term solution to the bay’s problems. The fight against rainwater runoff is also a priority.

“Everything that happens on land ends up in the bay, and the nutrient pollution that causes seagrass death and fish kills comes from these sources,” County Bay Chief Irela Bagué said, who was appointed last year to coordinate the work of the county. on the bay.

Bagué advocated for cooperation and collaboration between all levels of government and the private sector to reflect the different interests and programs around the bay. She hopes the group will help her orient her restoration plans in a “coordinated and holistic way.”

She also wants the board to help the county lobby the state for more funds, especially to hook up thousands of homes and businesses to sewer lines, a costly proposition for the 120,000. tanks and more that still exist. A 2018 county report said changing 83,000 of them would cost $ 3.3 billion. The county is beginning to tackle the problem with funds from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal American Rescue Plan.

MIA_005BiscayneBay_Homestead_EKMcopy
Healthy seagrass beds cover the soil of southern Biscayne Bay just below the calm surface of the water in Biscayne National Park, south of Homestead Bayfront Park, on Thursday, September 2, 2021. In d ‘ In other areas of the bay, much of the seagrass has died, leaving a large barren patch of sand. Emilie MIchot emichot@miamiherald.com

The agenda for the group’s first meeting on Monday had no actions to vote on, and no legislative wishlists are to be placed on the county commissioners council agenda. The good news is that converting septic tanks to sewers is already at the top of the list, Ring said.

At the first meeting, the Bay Tsar sought to dispel confusion about another group being created to resolve bay issues, the Biscayne Bay State Commission. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law this summer creating the nine-member commission that will work within the DEP.

Lawmakers have described the commission as a “clearinghouse” for Biscayne Bay improvement plans. Some County Bay boards will sit on the state commission, but the list of appointees is being finalized ahead of a first tentative meeting scheduled for January, according to Ring.

“This commission is a sign that the state is finally making Biscayne Bay a priority,” Ring said, adding that the county advisory council would present its plans and projects to the commission so it can seek funding from the commission. ‘State and federal government and other agency support. The county will coordinate and implement infrastructure and recovery projects, she said.

Some projects already underway are covered by $ 20 million in new funding – a $ 10 million state grant to which is added $ 10 million from Miami-Dade. The county has started connecting some homes to sewers in the Little River area, installing massive sewer lines in the area.

In a presentation to the new Watershed Advisory Board, Pamela Sweeney, head of the restoration and enhancement section of the county’s environmental resource management division, said Miami-Dade is also using the money to review more deep water quality in three problematic canals that dump pollution into the bay: the Little River, the Biscayne Canal and the Miami River. The county is increasing surveillance and identifying hot spots, she said.

Sweeney pointed to seagrass mortality in the northern part of the bay, which has lost up to 90% of its cover over the past two decades in some areas. This is why the county is also focusing on habitat restoration, including seagrass beds and areas along the county’s coastline.

“The collapse of Biscayne Bay is a complicated story and it will be a complicated path to recovery,” she said.

The members of the new advisory board are:

Danielle Cohen Higgins, Miami-Dade County Commissioner

Jean Monestime, Miami-Dade County Commissioner

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa

Vince Lago, Mayor of Coral Gables

Rachel Streitfeld, North Bay Village Commissioner

Miami Shores City Council Member Crystal Wagar

Brett Bibeau, representative of the Miami River Commission

Todd Crowl, Florida International University

Diego Lirman, University of Miami

Joan Browder, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Erik Stabenau, Biscayne National Park

Julissa Kepner, of the Greater Miami Visitors and Convention Bureau

Spencer Crowley, representing the Builders Association of South Florida

Jannek Cederberg, Florida Engineers Society-Miami

Gerald C. McGinley Jr., of the Marine Council

John L. Alger, representing the Dade County Farm Bureau

Roberto Torres, Nature Conservancy

Dave Doebler from the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition

Adriana Brasileiro covers environmental news at the Miami Herald. Previously, she covered climate change, business, political and general news as a correspondent for the world’s largest news agencies: Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones – The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, based in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Santiago.


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