© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Miami Beach Pumps Are Flushing Poop Water Into Biscayne Bay, According To Study

Hector Gabino
El Nuevo Herald
Miami Beach officials installed massive pumps to address flooding, pictured here at Ninth Street and Alton Road. However, scientists say that this results in massive amounts of human waste being pumped into the bay.

A recent study found that all that pumping being done to protect Miami Beach from flood waters is actually sending waste, especially human waste, into Biscayne Bay.  

Reporter Jenny Staletovich has written about this issue for The Miami Herald and explains the details: 

In 2014, when they first turned on the pumps, this team of scientists went out there and began sampling. And they had results come back pretty quickly where they knew there were increased levels of nutrients and phosphorus right at the sites where the storm water was being pumped into the bay. And then recently they went back and they took a more careful look at what exactly was in in that water. And they were using genetic markers to tell them whether it's human waste or dog waste. And so they were able to pull that apart and determine exactly what was in there.

Six hundred times the allowed amounts. I may be picturing sludgy, disgusting, odor water, but really what does that mean?

It means that this is water coming off an urban environment, and it's no surprise. It happens everywhere. It's going to have a lot of waste in it. And again, this was measured right at the outfall site so it's the water coming right off the streets in the storm-water drains and going into the bay. It dilutes very quickly. They say the solution to pollution is dilution. But the point of this study is that in the future if sea-rise projections play out as they're predicted there's going to be a lot more pumping. A recent study calculates that there will be like 380 events [flooding due to high tide] per year. Right now it's about six per year, so that's a lot more pumping. The point of the study was to show the point that in the future you're going have a lot more storm water going into the bay and it could have environmental consequences and maybe even public-health consequences.

The city came back and said, ‘We're going to take care of some of those old sewer lines and septic tanks.’

So I write, they're retrofitting their system and they are making the pipes better and they're also doing more to educate the public and convince people not to throw their bags of dog waste into the storm-water drains. There's a big problem with grease from restaurants that builds up in the sewer pipes and blocks it. So they've hired an extra inspector to go around and try and get the restaurants to do a better job of collecting their grease. But that aside, this is still untreated water. They use the filters to get at the big stuff, but there's nothing getting the little stuff. And I think this team of scientists [is] saying as long as you're not getting that little stuff something more needs to be done. It's very expensive. Scientists estimate one of their proposals is deep-well injections that would put the water below the boulder zone, but that’s expensive. They're doing it on Virginia Key now. The cost can be about seven million per well. The city says it's more like 10 million per well.

As the decades pass and the sea-level rise becomes a greater issue, everything that we do to try to protect the city just seems like in the end we're still causing some kind of damage. There's no way of getting around it.

There's a way around it, but it costs a lot of money and I think that's what’s playing out now. It remains kind of a politically divisive issue. Miami Beach is doing a lot to tackle it. To fully tackle it would cost a lot more, and maybe their fear is that they wouldn't get as much support as they are if the full cost played out right now. So I think they are saying as we move forward we'll be doing more and more things.

Those deep wells – describe what they are.

They actually go beneath Biscayne Bay beneath the boulder zone really deep. They've been used in other places; the county uses them out of the water and sewer plants to inject well water or inject this waste deep in these wells. And by the time it percolates up, it's filtered by our limestone base. 

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.