Horrible Biscayne Bay Pollution Worsened by 800-Gallon Sewage Leak

Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay Photo by John Smith / Flickr
Despite its photogenic good looks, Miami Beach has long struggled with dirty water. Beach-goers routinely pollute the ocean with plastic bottles and pool floats, while pumps meant to curb flooding due to sea level rise actually just flush more fecal matter into Biscayne Bay. Earlier this year, Miami Beach joined much of Florida in being swept with a toxic red tide.

Broken sewer pipes are also contributing to the problem: In October, city inspectors discovered cracks in a wastewater pipe under the bridge to the ritzy La Gorce Island in Mid-Beach. Before it could be fixed, an estimated 800 gallons of raw sewage leaked into Biscayne Bay.

The leak was reported to Miami Beach commissioners in a November 15 memo. The city's public works department says the entire sewer force main needs to be replaced, noting that the temporary repairs uncovered several cracks in the pipe "which can fail at any moment." The cost to fix the sewer line is expected to exceed $239,000.

Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier says the damage was discovered during a daily inspection of the city's pump stations. The leak lasted less than 16 hours, according to Berthier.

Marine scientists have been studying sewage spills in Biscayne Bay since at least the 1960s. While 800 gallons of sewage might seem like a lot, it's a relatively small amount compared to other recent leaks.

In 2013, Miami-Dade signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency after it was discovered the county had improperly dumped 28 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Biscayne Bay. Then, last summer, the Miami Waterkeeper, a nonprofit that advocates for the watershed and wildlife, discovered that a sewer pipe capable of pumping 143 million gallons of sewage per day had been leaking into the bay near Fisher Island for at least a year. Not long after that, Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma, a storm that resulted in six million more gallons of partially treated wastewater being spilled into the bay.

And authorities are doing little to improve the situation. The Miami Herald's amazing Jen Staletovich reported several months ago that, although half the seagrass in Biscayne Bay has died in the last six years, the state has cut money for 30 percent of the water-sampling stations. 

It's not only Biscayne Bay that's polluted: Just last week, the Miami chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, another nonprofit, tested ocean water near Collins Park at 21st Street and found that it had high levels of bacteria.
If you want to read water quality reports before going swimming, Miami Waterkeeper regularly updates its Swim Guide app and website with details. As of this week, Collins Park was the only Miami-area beach rated poor.
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Jessica Lipscomb is news editor of Miami New Times and an enthusiastic Florida Woman. Born and raised in Orlando, she has been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
Contact: Jessica Lipscomb