Article

injection wells

| posted on July 22, 2010

The
Sunshine State or the Brownstar State?

With Red
Tides Rising, Reefs, Dolphins and Fish Dying, Surfrider Palm Beach Makes
a Stink Over Sewage Injection Wells


Red Tide Death Toll.
Photo:
Florida
Marine Research Inst.

By
Chris Dixon


In
1997, Tom Warnke founded the Palm Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Since that time, he has been waging an uphill battle against Florida regulators
on an issue that should concern everyone who enjoys the state’s nearshore
waters. That issue is the pumping of partially treated sewage 1000 feet
down into Florida’s underground aquifers. Florida regulators claim there
is no clear scientific evidence that this sewage is ending up in the surf
zone.

Yet according to Warnke,some one billion gallons a day from 300 separate wells is being
pumped into the Florida ground.

Additionally, there are over 800 shallow sewage wells dotted all around the Florida
Keys. Warnke claims that anecdotal evidence of seeping sewage is everywhere.
Dead dolphins, killer algae, horrible sea lice infestations, biblical
red-tide outbreaks, sea turtles with horrendous lesions and dying reefs
in the Florida Keys. He adds that there is increasing evidence that Florida’s
porous limestone bedrock is doing little to keep your shit out of your
lineup. According to Warnke, Surfrider is going to have some big news on this
front in the coming months, but in the meantime, the interview that follows
should give you a fair understanding of the issue, and what Surfrider
feels is at stake. Is it The Sunshine State or The Brownstar State? Read
on…


Lake Worth Pier-Clear and Blue:
Courtesy Surfline

Chris
Dixon: Tom, what the hell is an injection well?

Tom Warnke:
It’s the most expeditious way that Florida uses to treat human sewage.
They take partially treated human sewage and inject it into the ground
instead of treating it until its clean again.

CD: To
what level is it treated?

TW: There’s
a variety but mostly I’d say it’s secondary.

The MSRA Form of Staph Bacteria
A Truly Nasty Beastie Found in Polluted Water

CD:
Meaning that it looks fairly clear but still has a lot of nasty microscopic
stuff in it.

TW:
Right. Most utilities directors would say you can hold it up to a glass
and it looks clear. Then you ask them, well, would you drink it? And they
say no way. Sometimes it might smell, sometimes it might not. But then
at other times that well that pumps the fairly clear water might also
pump just terrible brown stuff. There’s no monitoring as to what they
can pump. In times of heavy rains or heavy volume, they’ll just pump stuff
down that’s hardly treated at all. And there’s no requirement for them
to report anything. The monitoring is one of the big problems that we’ve
got. A well may be permitted to discharge 20 million gallons a day –
then you find out that they’re pumping 80 million a day.

CD:
So these sewage plants are pumping truly huge volumes.

TW: Well,
the Miami well is permitted to pump 200 million gallons a day. They go
a thousand feet deep, sometimes a little deeper. But a thousand feet–
that’s like 10 houses down the street. It’s not that far down.

The Algae Responsible
for Red Tide.

CD:
How is it that sewage plants are allowed to do this?

TW: Well,
the state’s position is that after you’re down into the ground a couple
or few hundred feet, there’s a confining layer called the Hawthorne layer
that keeps the sewage from coming back up. They have to go this deep because
they’ve always been hammered by Sierra and other environmental organizations,
saying, you’ve gotta protect drinking water aquifers. A lot of Florida’s
drinking water comes from a shallow aquifer which is just a few hundred
feet deep. They want to make sure that stuff doesn’t come back up into
the drinking water. But they don’t have any testing or monitoring,
or environmental impact statements to say whether or not the stuff moves
laterally. In fact, we’ve got a lot of good data to show that it
does come back up vertically. It percolates right back up through relic
sink holes from the ice ages — and there are just all kinds of underground
fracture zones. They can show that there is a confining layer at the site
of the well. But theses tests aren’t done in the wetlands, or across a
wide area. They need to go out in the middle of a sinkhole area and try
to find the confining layer — to see if it covers a truly broad area
— but they don’t do that.

A
Graphic of the Potential Effects of Sewage Injection Wells.
Click the graphic to see it animated.

Courtesy Surfrider Palm Beach



CD:
How did this practice of injecting sewage get started?

TW:
They allowed it 20 years ago as a temporary emergency measure to try to
do something instead of a horizontal ocean outfall. Now we find out that
all it is is just a vertical outfall — it has the same end results. We
call the aquifer the subterranean wetlands. We’re trying to protect them
but they’re just using them as a dumping ground.

CD: What
about environmental studies on these wells? Seems like you’d have to do
a study to be able to dig one of these wells.

TW: There
has never been an Environmental Impact Statement associated with any one
of these wells. They might do an EIS for the area immediately around the
well, but they’ve never done a statement to prove that it’s not coming
out in the ocean or bubbling up in a wetland somewhere. We’ve got tons
and tons of circumstantial evidence that wouldn’t prove a case for us,
but it’s becoming a tidal wave of evidence. We’re getting pretty uniform
readings of human sewage all over the surf zones of Florida.