Florida’s Seagrass Under Relentless Pollution Assault

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Thursday, March 3, 2022
Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097

Florida’s Seagrass Under Relentless Pollution Assault

Florida’s Fabled “Forgotten Coast” Beset by Torrent of Sewage Violations


Tallahassee, FL —One of Florida’s most pristine coastal stretches with beaches of “sugar-sand” is suffering from persistent sewage overflows and water pollution violations, according to a new report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). One casualty of this unremitting flow of excess nutrients into sensitive coastal waters is the formerly lush carpets of seagrass vital to the region’s fragile web of life.

The PEER report looks at the wastewater treatment plants around Panama City, the largest urban area in the part of Florida Panhandle called the Forgotten Coast” for its primitive beauty. In 2021, just three wastewater plants have been responsible for more than 200 sewage overflows:

    • Nearly 5 million gallons of raw sewage was illegally discharged into surface waters;
    • Another more than 2 million gallons of raw sewage was also spilled last year onto the grounds of these facilities and city streets and yards; and
    • In addition to spills of untreated sewage, the plants racked up a stream of permit violations for fecal coliform exceedances, insufficient ultraviolet disinfection, and unauthorized connections to stormwater discharge systems.

“These treatment facilities wreak massive ecological trauma on the waters of Bay County,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement attorney, noting the seagrasses have still not recovered from the damage caused by Hurricane Michael just four years ago. “These shallow waters allow little room for error, yet these facilities operate like environmental wrecking balls.”

Equally disturbing is the DEP’s seeming inability to address the problem in a meaningful way. Many of the sewage overflows follow state inspections in which more violations are uncovered. DEP assesses penalties well below the legal maximum but does not require corrective measures to prevent future overflows. One indication of DEP’s laidback approach is that it accepted an “in-kind” mitigation measure for the purchase of a street sweeper to help prevent waste from entering the Panama City’s stormwater system but does nothing to reduce the overflows.

“This pattern of repeated water pollution violations has gone on for years, but it appears to be getting worse,” added Phillips, pointing to prior enforcement complaints PEER has lodged. “The starvation of manatees brought on by the collapse of native seagrasses was supposed to have triggered a statewide environmental emergency, but in Bay County, it is still business as usual.”


Read the report

See 2021 illegal sewage discharges

Look at seagrass die-off driving manatee starvation

View previous Lynn Haven sewage complaint

Examine decline in Florida’s pollution enforcement

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