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TALLAHASSEE, FL, Sept. 13, 2018 – Hurricanes and big tropical rainstorms unleash tides of pollution aggravating Florida’s twin plagues of toxic red tides and poisonous blue-green algae blooms, according to a new report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) looking at impacts from 2017’s Hurricane Irma. Florida has no effective tools to prevent concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from discharging oceans of manure and liquid wastes during big storms, injecting mountains of nitrogen and phosphorus into already vulnerable waterbodies.
The PEER report looks at 31 CAFO permits that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued in the seven-county area south of Orlando, with most in Okeechobee County directly to the north of Lake Okeechobee. These facilities hold approximately 90,000 dairy cows producing nearly two billion pounds of manure per year and more than 10 million gallons of wastewater each day.
Their DEP permits forbid any discharge except during “a 25-year/24-hour rainfall event” and then the permittee is supposed to ensure any discharge is “limited and monitored…and reported” to DEP. However, a PEER review of DEP records found that following Irma –
- 28 of the 31 CAFOs filed no report even though all their waste lagoons were inundated;
- DEP conducted no inspections of any of these facilities in the months of September and October 2017, either before or after the storm hit; and
- CAFOs with past violations for issues such as faulty monitoring wells and breaches in lagoon berms received no enforcement action. DEP has inspected only 2 of the 11 facilities with violations since Irma.
“It is not clear what purpose these permits serve since DEP allows CAFOs to discharge millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus-laden wastes into waters flowing into Lake Okeechobee,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that Lake O discharges millions of gallons into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers during the wet season. “It should be no mystery why Florida is suffering water quality crises.”
Because it did no monitoring and conducted no inspections, DEP does not know how much waste was discharged during Irma. Nor has it done a review of whether CAFO permits need to be revised, leaving the situation unchanged as Florida is in the middle of a new hurricane season.
“Florida took no environmental lessons away from Irma as DEP simply turned its head and looked elsewhere,” added Phillips, pointing out that due to climate change and other factors, 25-year storm events are occurring far more frequently than in 25-year intervals. “Extreme weather means that the 25-year storm exception has swallowed the CAFO no discharge rule.”