Florida’s Drinking Problem – Unsafe Water
Widespread Potable Water Violations but Virtually Nonexistent Enforcement
Tallahassee — More than one in eight public water systems in Florida is afflicted with pollution-related violations, many involving unsafe fecal or chemical contamination, according to official figures compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yet despite hundreds of recent drinking water violations, Florida enforcement efforts have shrunk to almost undetectable levels.
In a report entitled “Don’t Drink the Water –Collapse of Florida’s Safe Drinking Water Enforcement Program,” PEER analyzes raw numbers obtained from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which show that –
- Nearly 700 of the roughly 5,300 public water systems in Florida are out of compliance with safe drinking water rules;
- Despite nearly 2,000 individual safe drinking water violations, including 295 violations involving exceedances of maximum contamination limits for things such as total coliform, chemicals, radionuclides and disinfection byproducts DEP opened only five enforcement cases in 2015 and assessed relatively small fines in only two; and
- Both the number of enforcement cases and the amount of penalties assessed has plummeted since 2010, with the number of assessments in potable water cases dropping from 141 to only 2 (a 98% nosedive) and the total amount of fines assessed plunging from roughly a quarter-million dollars to a mere $12,000 (a more than 95% falloff) in 2015.
“It is fair to say that Florida no longer has a functioning program for ensuring safe drinking water,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who analyzed the figures. “As perils mount to our potable water supplies from many sources, Florida is shrinking from the challenge.”
In spite of these dismal results, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently proposed delegating even more of its responsibilities under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to Florida’s DEP based upon a belated response to the state’s application for more authority filed back in 2013.
“Frankly, EPA’s abdication of its state oversight responsibilities is a big factor facilitating the utter evaporation of eco-enforcement that we have seen in Florida under Governor Scott,” added Phillips, pointing to annual summaries of enforcement activities in all DEP programs compiled annually by PEER through 2014. “Now would be the absolute worst time to suspend federal oversight of Florida’s very sick safe drinking water program.”
At the same time Florida’s potable water program has collapsed, the state is suffering from a plague of toxic algal blooms on both coasts, salt water intrusion driven in part by sea-level rise and depletion of groundwater aquifers. These rising threats to clean water also appear to be abetted by significant breakdowns in DEP’s overall environmental protection operation.