Tampa Sewage Meltdown Early Eco-Test for Desantis
Federal Intervention Needed If State Continues to Ignore Major Pollution Violations
Tallahassee —The City of Tampa’s sewage treatment plant is a poster child for Florida’s clean water crisis, according to a federal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint details a litany of pollution violations, sewage overflows, failed inspections, and chronic noncompliance without any significant enforcement or corrective action by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant serves the City of Tampa. Under its current permit, the plant discharges 96 million gallons per day of effluent into Hillsborough Bay. Yet the plant regularly exceeds these permit limits and thereby threatens both public health and Tampa Bay’s water quality. For example –
- There have been 288 sanitary sewer overflows since January 2012 and 95 just since its latest permit was issued in 2015. However, DEP has taken no action on these violations even though raw sewage contains disease-causing pathogens that imperil anyone exposed;
- The plant pumps out effluents more than six times the maximum nutrient-enrichment level for saltwater receiving bodies that give rise to factors aggravating red-tide outbreaks; and
- According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records, the plant has been in noncompliance with its permit for 6 of the past 12 quarters and in “Significant Noncompliance” for 2 of the past 12 quarters. Most all the violations concern effluent exceedances, as opposed to reporting lapses, and these exceedances generally involve chemicals hazardous to human health, principally bromoform or dibromochloromethane.
“Tampa’s treatment plant is a prime candidate for detox,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, who drafted and filed the complaint. “Tampa’s chronic sewage discharge violations are so severe they give new meaning to the phrase ‘flush the Bay.’”
Incoming Governor Ron DeSantis has pledged to take steps to address Florida’s deteriorating water quality but the exact dimensions of what he is proposing remain unclear. He has yet to name an Environment Secretary. Nor has he specified whether he will turn around DEP’s declining enforcement record, which, under his predecessor, had slumped to a 30-year low.
“Governor DeSantis needs to go back to basics to fix DEP and that means start enforcing pollution laws,” Phillips added, noting that DEP issues water pollution discharge permits under standards sets by EPA pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and the complaint asks EPA to step in if Florida will not address Tampa’s violations. “It shows how late in the day it is when intervention by a Trump EPA would be a welcome development.”