PRESS RELEASE

Florida’s Clearwater Awash in Sewage Violations

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 11, 2021
Contact: Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Florida’s Clearwater Awash in Sewage Violations

More than 400 Sewage Overflows in Last Five Years; Almost No Enforcement

Tallahassee — Florida’s sparkling Gulf waters are increasingly choked with pollutants pumped from municipal wastewater treatment plants, according to a new report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) focused on Clearwater’s sewage troubles. Despite routine noncompliance and hundreds of sewage overflows, there have been very few enforcement or remedial actions undertaken by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

PEER examined compliance records of the four municipal wastewater plants serving the cities of Clearwater and Largo in Pinellas County on Florida’s Gulf coast.  That review revealed –

  • The plants regularly discharge pollutants at levels in violation of their permit limits. These pollutants, such as fecal coliform, exacerbate toxic red tide outbreaks;
  • Since 2015, the plants are responsible for more than 400 sewage overflows, several of them quite large. Altogether, the plants average two sewage overflows each month; and
  • DEP has ignored the vast majority of violations and, in some instances, has increased the permit discharge limits to embrace past violations. Although it has issued warning letters, the very few enforcement actions DEP has taken typically do not require follow-up remediation to prevent recurrences, and allow fine forgiveness.

“Clearwater has certainly not been living up to its name,” remarked Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who has documented the agency’s compliance record. “The lack of enforcement appears to facilitate more violations, creating a reinforcing pollution cycle that is threatening what had been some of Florida’s most pristine waters.”

The wastewater treatment plants discharge into streams and other surface waters feeding into the Gulf of Mexico. These receiving waters are classified as impaired due to the high amounts of pollutants pumped into them relative to their volume.

“The sewage pollution problem in Clearwater is getting steadily worse, and at almost every turn, DEP has chosen to kick the can down the road by securing promises of compliance only to have the same violations repeated time and again,” added Phillips, who is calling for DEP to take aggressive enforcement action when the violations are observed. “Florida cannot afford another toxic red tide water crisis like we had in 2018, but that is exactly where we appear to be headed.”

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Read the PEER Clearwater Wastewater White Paper

Revisit PEER report on Orlando’s wastewater problems

View the annual PEER reports on Florida DEP enforcement