Tallahassee — A major water pollution discharger into Northeast Florida’s St. Johns River has committed a jaw dropping string of violations over the past five years without paying a penny in penalties, according to an enforcement complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in. The PEER complaint cites the large volume of untreated or poorly treated sewage illegally feeding into the 310-mile slow-moving north-flowing river.
The focus of the complaint is Spencer’s Wastewater Treatment Facility operated by Clay County Utility Authority. That facility, located in the Jacksonville metro area, is legally entitled to discharge 4 million gallons of wastewater a day through three outfalls. The discharges from these outfalls are into a tributary of the St. Johns. The facility is also authorized to deposit 4.7 million gallons a day of residuals on lands in the watershed, under permits granted to it by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The facility routinely exceeds those high permit limits, however. In 2004, Clay County Utility Authority signed a consent order to resolve 79 pollution violations by the plant. Since then the plant has –
- Racked up 15 major permit violations;
- Been listed on ten Significant Noncompliance Reports; and
- Repeatedly discharged untreated or inadequately treated effluent.
Despite this pollution rap sheet, the state DEP has not assessed any fines or begun a formal enforcement action or permit suspension against Spencer’s Wastewater Treatment Facility.
“It is apparent that no amount of illegal water pollution will trigger action by the state to protect the St. Johns River or the wildlife and people who rely upon it,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who filed the complaint, noting that the St. Johns is a significant source of the region’s drinking water. “More nutrients from wastewater treatment plants and other sources pour daily into the St. Johns than the river can absorb. The result is growing algal blooms, fish kills and human health problems. To save the St. Johns we need to start acting now.”
The PEER “overfile” complaint was filed with the EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta to invoke federal concurrent authority to enforce the Clean Water Act. It demands that EPA immediately take jurisdiction over (i.e., overfile) the case in order to protect public health and the environment and maintain the credibility of the national water quality program. If the EPA Region does not act, PEER may appeal to EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement in Washington. PEER also has a similar pending overfile complaint against the City of Boca Raton sewage treatment plant.
“We need federal intervention because the responsible state agency is catnapping at the switch,” Phillips added, pointing out that water quality enforcement seems even less likely under the administration of new Governor Rick Scott. “As I understand our new Governor’s environmental philosophy, it is that Florida should be allowed to pollute itself back to prosperity. It is already clear that he does not want strict enforcement of any environmental regulations.”