Friends of Perdido Bay
10738 Lillian Highway
Pensacola, FL 32506
Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay
February 2002 Volume 15 Number 1 Jackie Lane -Editor
General Meeting - Thursday March 7, 2002
Stop the wastewater. This will be the topic of our meeting. The meeting begins at 7:00 PM at the Lillian Community Club. Come to the meeting and show support for "NO MORE WASTEWATER IN THE PERDIDO WATERSHED". See the next article for details.
More Wastewater for Perdido Bay Watershed?
Many of you may not have heard the latest. A board member on the Escambia County Utilities Authority which owns all the wastewater treatment plants in Escambia County Florida, has proposed diverting all the wastewater currently going into Pensacola Bay into the Perdido Bay watershed. This proposal would eventually result in closing of the Mainstreet Wastewater Treatment Plant which is located next to waterfront property in downtown Pensacola. This plant treats approximately 15 million gallons of effluent a day and discharges it into Pensacola Bay. According to the proposed plan, approximately 12.8 million gallons would be diverted to wetlands surrounding Bayou Marcus (just adjacent to Perdido Bay). In order to treat this much effluent, the Bayou Marcus Wastewater plant would have to be expanded and a new permit issued. Currently the Bayou Marcus plant is permitted to treat 8 million gallons a day (MGD) and is now treating 4 MGD. The remaining 3 to 4 MGD that is now being sent to downtown Pensacola would go to the new proposed wastewater treatment site in Cantonment Florida which is to be built on International Paper property. This is the wastewater which is supposed to be combined with IP effluent and sent to wetlands near Perdido Bay. The summation of all this wastewater being shipped around is that it ends up in the Perdido watershed at a very expensive price to the public. We say no more wastewater in the Perdido Bay watershed. Come to the meeting to show your support for no more wastewater.
Over the years there has been a cry to get "that old smelly sewer plant" out of down town Pensacola. Undoubtly, the property next to the Mainsteet Plant would increase in value. But the estimated cost to move the Mainstreet Plant is 200 million + legal fees for the fight that is going to ensue. The Mainstreet Plant has just spent $22 million to upgrade the quality of the effluent and try to eliminate odors. The plant is not a eye sore as it was designed to fit into the downtown setting. It has smelled bad in the past and has kept that part of downtown from realizing its full potential. But moving all the wastewater from Pensacola Bay into Perdido Bay just does not make sense.
The site of the Mainstreet discharge in Pensacola Bay is environmentally more suitable than allowing the discharge at the headwaters of Perdido Bay. The discharge site in Pensacola Bay is well flushed with water from the Gulf. The proposal to discharge the wastewater to wetlands surrounding Perdido Bay means that this water will eventually go into Perdido Bay. Wetlands are wetlands because there is water on or just underneath the soil. Wastewater discharged to wetlands flows over the soil and into the surrounding water. Nutrients in the water may be absorbed and transformed by the plants and bacteria in the wetlands but the water still flows out into a surrounding water body. The 4 MGD wetland discharge currently at Bayou Marcus is good in that nutrients are probably removed, but it is bad in that color from the wetlands is washed out into Perdido Bay. The wastewater that is treated at Bayou Marcus is crystal clear when it is discharged to the surrounding wetlands. However as this water flows through the wetlands, it picks up the color and probably some solids from the wetlands and flows out along the shoreline of Perdido Bay as a dark brown stain. This is not good. Increasing the flow through the wetlands from the current 4 MGD to almost 13 MGD will make the influx of colored water from the wetlands much worse. Enough is enough. This proposal must be stopped.
What can we do to stop this proposal before it gets too far? Come to the meeting and show your support against the proposal. Call and write letters to the following Congressmen, telling them you do not want federal money to go toward funding this bad project. In Florida: In Alabama:
Congressman Jeff Miller Sonny Callahan
127 Cannon House Office Building 2372 Rayburn House Office Build.
Washington, D.C. 20515 Washington, D.C. 20515
Call the two members of the ECUA Board who proposed and voted for the plan.
Mr. Robert Tegenkamp proposed the plan - 850-434-6388. Mr. Logan Fink voted for the plan - 850-944-1941. Tell them you do not want this wastewater to go to the Perdido Bay watershed. Can the plan.
What about that other plan?
For the past two years, residents on Perdido Bay have been waiting to hear more details on International Paper's plan to improve their wastewater treatment system slightly and then pipe the effluent, along with ECUA effluent, to a wetland for further treatment. We were originally told that the wetlands would be a "constructed" wetlands which is built and designed to remove a known amount of pollutants. Last year the "constructed" wetland plan quietly became an "experimental" wetland. Experimental wetlands probably mean a discharge to a wet area without any engineering/construction to remove a certain amount of pollutants. International Paper says it already discharges to an "experimental" wetland which means the effluent flows through a marshy area, combines with storm water in a pond, goes into a 4 foot pipe and under Kingsfield Road. This is their "experimental" wetland.
IP, which is operating on a combined state temporary operating permit which expired in 1994 and a federal permit which expired in 1988, was supposed to have applied for a permit for this project in December 2001. Every month I call DEP to find out what has happened to the permit application. Now the DEP is saying it will probably be the end of March before they receive a permit application from IP. Does this sound familiar? Stall, Stall and more Stall. This is in spite of IP's strenuous statements that they were serious about getting this project completed as soon as possible. IP is no longer communicating with Friends of Perdido Bay so we have no more details about the plan and, of course, no more strenuous statements. It is time for DEP to step up and shut the mill down if IP does not follow through soon. We have heard enough plans and waited long enough.
DEP's regulatory laxness appears to have allowed IP to run the mill with as little money spent for pollution control as possible. We are hearing reports that fishing in Eleven Mile Creek is as bad as it has ever been. We know fishing in Upper Perdido Bay is a waste of time since there are no fish. In our last sampling of IP's effluent in December 2001, the results were terrible. The mill was putting out 4,270 pounds per day of oxygen consuming materials, 8,153 pounds per day of suspended solids and the same amount of ammonia that they had always released. Fecal coliform (bacteria indicating contamination) were 900 colonies/100 ml. This level of fecal coliform is a violation of the Florida Water Quality Standards. This level of fecal coliform would certainly make swimming dangerous. When we present these violations to IP or DEP or in court as we did in June, DEP replies that IP is not required to meet the water quality standards in Eleven Mile Creek. They only have to meet the water quality standards at their Parshall Flume which is about ¼ mile on IP property and not accessible to the public. IP claims that the high fecal coliforms at the place where we sample is due to storm water (coming from their site) not their effluent. The DEP samples the Parshall Flume twice a year and gives IP adequate notice about when they are coming to sample. It is important to understand what environmental protection means - protection for industry in environmental matters. The public loses again.
This is a new term which has begun appearing in national and state regulatory documents, especially those dealing with the TMDL process. TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. The TMDL program is relatively new and focuses on finding pollution loads which would allow a body of water to meet all ambient water quality standards. The pollution loads coming from both point (permitted, end-of-pipe plants) and non-point (run-off from streams, etc.) would be measured to find a "safe" level of pollutants. Prior to the TMDL program, regulatory programs focused on "point" or permitted source control Now the focus has switched to pollution contributed by sources other than "point" sources. TMDL calculations would only be done on water bodies which are defined as "impaired" or not meeting their designated use.
What is designated use? Before the TMDL program, designated use was a series of water body classifications starting with Roman Numeral I (drinking water) and going through Roman Numeral V (Industrial Use). Most waters in the U.S. were classified as III or "swimmable and fishable". Class III waters have a series of water quality criteria which the water bodies are supposed to meet. If they don't meet those criteria, the water body is impaired. Perdido Bay and Eleven Mile Creek are Class III waters which are not meeting Class III water quality criteria. But alas, the definition of designated use is changing. As written in a recent publication put out by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled Assessing the TMDL Approach to Water Quality Management, "the Clean Water Act goals of fishable and swimmable are too broad to be operational as statements of designated uses". This publication proposes that "designated uses" be defined by community values, in other words, politics, and that the water quality standards be reset using the new, community definition for designated use. What this would mean for Perdido Bay is, unless we had the political power base over on Perdido Bay, our bay could be designated "the industrial dump". It would appear that this is exactly what is happening. Designated uses and water quality standards would change through the TMDL process. In many cases, regulatory programs would not work to improve water bodies, but would allow them to become degraded. This is an extremely dangerous turn of events and signals a shift in the emphasis of our government. To allow the use of a water body to be determined by politics is wrong. Programs like this TMDL program which promote increasing campaign contributions to influence whether or not we are going to live and breath pollution, are wrong. We need less political interference, not more, because in the end, Joe Q. Public will loose.