Saturday, January 22, 2022

Letter to the Editor: When Local Communities Step Up, Our Waterways Win

As Vice Chair of the South Florida Water Management District and a South Florida resident, I have a deep sense of responsibility to follow science in making decisions to keep our waterways clean. Our environment and the life that calls it home, as well as our burgeoning economy, depend on both state and federal agencies to do their part in securing the cleanliness of this important resource. However, there is one greatly overlooked authority that has the power to influence the health of water within its own backyard unlike any other. Of course, I’m referring to local governments. Municipalities and their elected officials have direct ability to improve water quality and stop harmful bacteria by implementing septic-to-sewer conversions. By unifying our voice and stepping up to denounce septic as a problem not a solution, we as stakeholders can ensure South Florida’s future.

If you want to see local governments that have joined the fight to end beach closings at the hand of human waste-caused bacteria, look no further than Marco Island on the west coast and the town of Ocean Breeze on the east coast.

Marco Island residents have invested $250 million to help combat waste contamination. This proud community refuses to stand powerless as aging and failing septic systems wreak havoc on their way of life. Kudos to this Collier County city for operating a centralized wastewater collection system and implementing a Septic Tank Replacement Program. While no resident actively wants to incur additional costs to their household bill, the cost of not embracing conversion and new treatment facilities is far greater to the pristine environment of which they protect so proudly.

Furthermore, I had the pleasure of personally engaging with Ocean Breeze Mayor Karen Ostrand at the District’s October business meeting. She articulated that there is no conversion too small when it comes to protecting our water quality. While Martin County’s Ocean Breeze is the eighth-smallest town in all of Florida, it still packs a powerful and committed punch to preserving the 112 acres that its residents call home. The entire township has converted all 145 of its homes to sewer and by doing so removed approximately 300 septic tanks. The $1.5 million investment was a concerted effort among a community devoted to the health of the Indian River Lagoon. I for one see this town as a shining example of true environmentalists making both personal and financial commitments to defend their town and ecosystem.

Let’s all embrace these success stories and join in the mantra of areas like Marco Island and Ocean Breeze by never allowing human waste contamination to rob residents and vacationers of enjoying all that our state has to offer.

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