It’s been a tough summer for South Florida beaches, which have faced hot weather, seaweed and high bacteria levels.
The latest example happened this week in Northeast Miami-Dade County. An underground sewer pipe under the Oleta River broke and discharged more than a million gallons of raw sewage, as of Thursday night, according to the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department.
Officials say people should stay clear of waters from Maule Lake to the Intracoastal, and south between Haulover Inlet and the mainland. There’s also a no-swim advisory for beaches at Oleta River State Park, Greynolds Park and near the Haulover Inlet.
The spill is the latest reminder of the vulnerabilities faced by the region’s waterways.
The health of Biscayne Bay has also recently become a focus. Recent studies by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Biscayne Bay Task Force and even the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office point to problems with pollution.
On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson and WLRN’s environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich spoke with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Assistant State Attorney Howard Rosen about these troubled waters.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
TOM HUDSON: Why put the issue of Biscayne Bay's health to a grand jury in Dade County?
KATHERINE FERNANDEZ RUNDLE: One of the things that you always learn about grand juries is they're constantly interested in what impacts our community. They do in addition to first-degree murder cases and they just felt that Biscayne Bay is the crown jewel of our environment.
HUDSON: Did the grand jury request this issue? Or did the SAO's office decide to put it to them?
FERNANDEZ RUNDLE: Traditionally it's a mixture. Sometimes we'll suggests something. Sometimes they'll suggest something.
HUDSON: There are some recommendations in there but there's nothing in the report that really struck me as a highly technical recommendation that the department of environmental regulations ought to do this or the county commissioners need to do that. What happens with this report now?
HOWARD ROSEN: The report goes to all the the change makers. It goes to the Legislature. It goes to the Board of County Commissioners. It goes to the governor's office people who can effectuate change based upon some of the recommendations.
Some of the recommendations are very simple and very basic. The grand jury was stunned as was I to hear, for example, on hard plastics.The fact that blew us away the most is it takes between 500 and 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to completely biodegrade. Plastics first went into widespread use for bottles in the 1990s. That means that every single plastic bottle that's been made still exists on this planet.
HUDSON: There really has been a volume of scientific and other type of work on Biscayne Bay that's come to light really just in the past few months. What is one here supposed to take away?
JENNY STALETOVICH: I think what you take away is that conditions are even worse now than they were before. This is a downward spiral. It seems to me that when there was a big seagrass die off a couple of years ago in Tuttle basin, that got everybody's attention. There's been seagrass loss across the bay. There's been more algae. With the Tuttle basin, which was a northern kind of protected basin, people remember swimming out there, snorkeling. Huge meadows of thick manatee grass. When that started dying and you were left with just like this underwater Dust Bowl, I think people said, "OK, this is serious."
This also coincided with a lot of climate change sea rise issues. A lot of people were concerned that we're dumping more and more stormwater into the bay. That's loaded with all kinds of nutrients and things that are not good for seagrass and other marine life in the bay. It seems like rising seas and worsening conditions in the bay slammed into each other and people are saying enough.