American Water Security Project

Kirk Mantay, PWS, Coastal Systems Ecologist
Steering Committee Chair
American Water Security Project
5315 1st Avenue South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33707

16 April 2019

Dear Governor DeSantis, President of Senate Galvano, Speaker Oliva, Secretary Valenstein, Florida legislators, and Brevard County Commission:

As the Chair of the American Water Security Project’s steering committee and an ecological restoration expert with more than 20 years’ experience cleaning up coastal watersheds, I am writing you today to reinforce the importance of science-based activities for alleviating Florida’s water quality crisis. Our organization—including board members, the Science & Infrastructure advisory panel, and the Policy advisory panel—appreciates Governor DeSantis’s legislative priority of mitigating Florida’s harmful algal bloom and water quality problems, as he indicated in his “State of the State” address preceding the 2019 legislative session. 

As budgets are proposed and debated from Florida’s executive and legislative branches and from County Commissions for appropriations on a broad category of “water quality improvements,” we encourage our elected officials to consider the most prudent and effective appropriations of taxpayer revenue to achieve this goal.

There is now broad if not universal agreement that Florida’s water quality problems and its harmful algal blooms are interconnected, and as such it is now clear that we will not resolve either of these issues without reducing land-based sources of pollution. By designating the first-ever Chief Science Officer, the Governor has recognized that prudent scientific-based appropriations for projects to improve water quality are mission critical.

To that end, we encourage elected officials to support water quality improvements by appropriating projects in your budgets that mitigate significant new inputs of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) into water bodies, such as wastewater infrastructure improvements, rather than less cost-efficient efforts, such as muck dredging, or small scale shellfish restoration projects conducted in water too polluted to support bivalves. 

The primary restoration strategy for the Tampa and Sarasota Bay National Estuary Programs was nitrogen removal at its source through wastewater infrastructure improvements (facility upgrades to advanced treatment and septic-to-sewer upgrades).

Prioritizing the reduction of significant land-based sources of nutrient pollution has been mirrored in the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Puget Sound and many other large estuaries. Prioritizing wastewater infrastructure should continue to inform Florida’s approach to repairing and modernizing its aging and failing treatment facilities. Without prioritizing the reduction of nutrient pollution at their sources, municipalities like St. Petersburg and Sarasota pose a renewed threat to the improvements to those estuaries already made by an initial investment in sewer infrastructure that mitigated algal blooms, improved fisheries, and expanded seagrass cover to 1950’s levels. While that work was successful, it is currently at risk again due to similar issues that caused the initial collapse of those ecosystems.

It is important to note that in neither Tampa nor Sarasota Bay, nor the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay where I’ve spent the bulk of my career, was muck dredging utilized as a successful nutrient reduction strategy. In fact, when massive dredging was performed in the Laguna Madre, Texas, sediment and nutrient resuspension from dredging and improperly disposed dredge material was identified as the cause of recurring brown tides and seagrass loss.

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In summary, with limited but essential budget appropriations for “water quality improvements,” we encourage you to prioritize at least $100 million in recurring annual funding to mitigate Florida’s $18.4 billion and growing wastewater infrastructure backlog, and delay funding the nearly $20 million in muck dredging appropriations bills proposed in HB3009 and HB3623. These proposed projects do not hold the same efficiency for nutrient reduction as the abatement of ongoing raw or partially treated sewage influxes, including effluent from leaky septic tanks, which creates ongoing public health problems as well as water pollution threats.

Thank you for your understanding of this perspective on improving Florida’s water quality, and I look forward to your progress in this important endeavor.

Sincerely,

Kirk Mantay, PWS, Coastal Systems Ecologist
American Water Security Project
Steering Committee Chair