Tallahassee — A welter of serious water pollution offenses by the City of Daytona Beach sewage treatment operation requires immediate federal intervention, according to an enforcement complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in. The complaint targets a pattern of excess sewage dumped into an already impaired Halifax River, a popular snorkeling and boating venue within the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway.
The Daytona/Bethune Point Wastewater Facility has a permit authorizing it to discharge 20 million gallons of treated sewage per day into the Halifax but routinely exceeds those permit limits. Starting with a major spill following a fire and explosion which killed two workers in 2006, the PEER complaint traces a five-year litany of almost continual violations but only minimal state enforcement action:
- At the time of a 2009 consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the plant racked up another 25 violations even as it promised to comply with its permit;
- Since that consent order, state records show another 35 violations, including raw sewage overflows, excessive levels of fecal coliform and failures to disinfect discharges; and
- The facility has been on the EPA “Significant Noncompliance” list since July 2008.
“Daytona Beach is a poster child for what is wrong with Florida’s water quality,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who filed the complaint. “This city has a rap sheet that would make Al Capone blush.”
Florida and EPA are currently wrestling over nutrient limits for Florida waters – principally, nitrogen and phosphorus, the main culprits in sewage water. Nutrient levels continue to rise ominously in Florida waters due to an unabated flow of both legal and illegal discharges. The Daytona facility routinely violates its permit’s nutrient restrictions (particularly for nitrogen) for which it just as routinely pays fines limited to $250 per violation by the terms of its consent order with DEP.
“According to EPA, one-quarter of Florida water dischargers are in significant violation of their permits but those figures understate actual conditions,” added Phillips, noting that official recordkeeping is so incomplete that the true picture is undoubtedly much worse. “Who sets nutrient criteria at what level does not matter if there is no enforcement.”
Citing imminent public health and environmental damage, the PEER complaint demands that the EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta invoke federal concurrent authority to enforce the Clean Water Act and take jurisdiction over permit enforcement away from DEP. If the EPA Region does not act, PEER can put the complaint before the EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement in Washington. In the past few months, PEER has lodged similar complaints with EPA against the Clay County and the City of Boca Raton sewage treatment plants.