The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) has been issued a permit by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to inject partially treated sewage effluent into shallow wells on Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sewage system is not yet operational, but the five year old permit has recently been renewed and the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant and its four shallow wells are scheduled to go online in 2015.
The proposed renewal permit is now the subject of a formal legal challenge by two commercial fishermen, Mike Laudicina and Don DeMaria, with possible intervention by other local groups and individuals at the appropriate time. The need for a deep well is supported by the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association; Dr. David Vaughan, Executive Director of the Tropical Research Laboratory at Mote Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key; Dr. Todd Kincaid, a well-known hydrogeologist often hired by FDEP and various other governmental agencies because of his expertise in the porous limestone and karst geology such as that found in the Lower Keys; Dr.Brian Lapointe, well-known marine biologist and researcher on the effects of sewage effluent on local Lower Keys waters; Don Maynard, P.E., C.G, an experienced and well respected hydrogeologist and engineer, and by many local residents, commercial divers and fishermen, whistleblowers, and others concerned about water quality in
the Lower Keys and its marine sanctuary, wildlife refuges, and Outstanding Florida Waters.
Although the effluent from the Plant will be treated to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) standards, FKAA’s plans and permits show that it will be injecting more than 1 million gallons per day (mgd) of effluent into the shallow wells.
The partially treated effluent will degrade the nearshore waters of the marine sanctuary because of the volume of total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) present at elevated concentrations in the sewage effluent, along with a variety of organic wastewater compounds such as endocrine disrupters, hormones, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals from toilets and sinks. These are not removed at the Plant.In the foreground of this picture taken at the Cudjoe Plant is a sink hole which opened on 12-1-14. The photographer measured the hole as being about 18 feet away from injection well #4, with the depth of the hole greater than two feet at this point in time, with two branches.
According to Don Maynard:
“This picture gives you an idea of the processes that are constantly occurring out of sight in the oolite and reefal limestone which is found throughout the Keys,both under dry land and underwater. This sink hole adjacent to one of the injection wells indicates the presence of sub-surface tunnels, caves and/or caverns which would likely act as preferential pathways for migration of injected influent to surface water with minimal or no renovation.
“The following two slides illustrate the way the injected freshwater effluent – more buoyant than the sea water - will rise to the surface waters through our porous limestone surroundings.
Within hours or days – if it finds sinkholes or conduits like the one which just opened near well #4 – or within months, if it rises to the surface without finding a conduit. Either way, it will most likely rise to the surface waters, carrying its contaminant load with it.”According to Dr. Lapointe, who has conducted over 30 years of research on
water quality issues in the Lower Keys, the shallow well injectate will move to the surface waters, violate Florida and federal water quality laws, and contribute to a decline in our local fisheries and further danger to our reefs, sea turtles and marine habitat for other endangered and protected species.
Additionally, based on data from FKAA itself, Dr. Lapointe has calculated that the permitted nitrogen from the shallow well injectate could support many tons per day of additional algal biomass in Cudjoe Basin and surrounding waters.
This is a tremendous addition not only of organic matter, but of other contaminants as well (e.g. pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors) to our near shore waters.
Dr. Lapointe advises that low oxygen (hypoxia) “dead zones” and loss of turtle grass habitat and fisheries will most likely occur.
A deep well will isolate the sewage injectate at least 2,000 feet below the
surface so that if it ever does reach surface waters, it will be diluted and in deeper water. It will also comply with Florida law. The four shallow wells which are already built can be used as the required back-up.