Decades in the making through hard work, citizen awareness campaigns and revised boating laws, the comeback of the Florida manatee has been a real success story for those who care about the ecology of the State of Florida. But, because of our unwillingness and inability to STOP doing human wastewater treatment on the cheap, the residual chemicals left in the waste stream after treatment at local wastewater treatment plants are overwhelming our coastal waters.
It seems that those same chemicals, which promote the growth of all types of algae, are sullying coastal waters and blocking needed sunlight for Florida's once prolific seagrass meadows. Manatees seem to now be dying in droves from starvation. The statistics don't lie.
What is wastewater on the cheap? It is the relatively simple act of removing solids and pathogens from the tailpipes of treatment plants prior to returning the treated water to the environment. Wastewater, after the initial rounds of treatment, LOOKS clean. But, it is not. It is laced with nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia and other chemicals that provoke the growth of a multitude of different algal species as well as invasive plants.
Outdated treatment plants that are sometimes used beyond their designed capacity, ordinary septic tanks, and non-point source pollution like that from streets and parking lots are all killing Florida aquatic environment. And, if that problem was not by itself bad enough, we are adding hundreds of thousands of new citizens to the State every year.
Florida has NOTHING if we do not have clean water. It is no longer possible to do "wastewater treatment on the cheap". Here is a partial list of solutions as I see them:
1. Elect smart, effective and courageous political leaders at all levels of government who will acknowledge the problem and devise the right fixes.
2. Understand that this stuff does not get fixed with no cost to all of us. Be ready to pay.
3. Require that all new wastewater systems be built to the standards that remove aforementioned tertiary chemicals before release of the wastewater back into the environment.
4. Devise a plan to bring all existing systems up to the same standards for new plants over a specific period of time.
5. Remove septic tank on-site sewage disposal systems where possible and certainly in ecologically sensitive areas.
6. Require that all non-point source urban runoff be adequately controlled prior to contamination of nearby waters.
All pollution contributors should be considered for long term planning. As well, we need to start the process of dealing with micro-plastics and pharmaceuticals that flow through the tailpipes of our sewer plants.