1.4 Improve FDEP public reporting of wastewater discharges
Key Message: Notification and access to information about wastewater spills, emergency discharges, and overflows should be timely, standardized, and clearly conveyed so citizens and non-government organizations can evaluate short-term impacts and identify long-term chronic issues for remediation.
Wastewater spills, releases and overflows pose a threat to the environment and public health (see Chapter 1.3). Immediate public notification of incidents is essential to protecting public health and contributes to open and transparent governance in the public interest. Notifications should be easily accessible, standardized, and adequate for citizens and non-government organizations to evaluate and quantify the immediate threat of a spill and to identify the longer-term cumulative impacts of repeated and ongoing spills. Currently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) provides spill information to the public that is timely but not easy to understand or analyze.
FDEP requires utilities to report within 24 hours any unauthorized releases of wastewater to surface or groundwater and any wastewater spills greater than 1,000 gallons (Chapter 62-620, F.A.C.). In response to two large incidents in 2016 that were reported to FDEP but not to the public until weeks later, Florida’s Public Notice of Pollution Act (F.S. 403.077) was enacted in 2017. The Act requires FDEP to post spill reports to a publicly accessible website within 24 hours of receipt and to allow citizens to sign up for automatic spill notification via email. FDEPs Pollution Notice website also displays a GIS map showing spills reported in the last 30 days. Previously, pollution incidents were reported immediately but often became public knowledge only if someone made a public records request.
Public notice of spills is important for public health. Source: Nick Rose
FDEP requires incident reports to include date, time, location, type and amount of spill, source/cause of spill, and affected area and water body. However, the information is not in a format that can be easily analyzed. Specifically, the most pertinent information such as type and amount of discharge, whether it was contained and cleaned up, or what water body was affected, is reported in a narrative format that is not standardized, making it difficult to understand, summarize, and evaluate (Table 1.4.1). For example, individuals filling out the form write varying summaries of their particular incident that are sometimes incomplete, differ from report to report, and cannot be sorted or statistically analyzed.
Table 1.4.1. Crosswalk of the types of reporting information required by FDEP regulation (F.A.C. 62-620.610(20)(b)1) (a–j) and the type and format of information required by the Public Notice of Pollution Report form. Items d–e and g–j are reported to the public in a narrative format that is inconsistent and difficult to summarize.
FDEP currently presents incident information exactly as provided by the reporting utility or contractor, who submit form-based reports through FDEP’s online Business Portal. These notices can be made more transparent and meaningful for the public by simply modifying the online reporting form. Specifically, the form should provide unique fields for describing the spill, rather than aggregating spill incident information in a non-standard and sometimes incomplete narrative.
Unique fields should be broken out to capture information required by FDEP regulation, including spill characteristics (treated or untreated and industrial or domestic), estimated volume released, estimated volume recovered during cleanup, whether the discharge was contained or not, and the name of the affected water body.
This would facilitate data summaries of the cumulative total volume released, by type of spill, and by associated facility, allowing rough calculations of the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus released to particular watersheds. While not currently required by FDEP rule (Table 1.4.1), nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations should be reported. Wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) already include nutrient concentrations of treated effluent in monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs), but nutrient concentrations of untreated sewage can vary substantially and should be field tested and reported (see Chapter 1.1).
Improving FDEP spill reporting can be achieved through an internal policy change by the Water Compliance Enforcement Program of the Division of Water Resource Management. To request the policy change and initiate action, a formal letter of request from a coalition of prominent community organizations could be submitted to the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency with a copy to the Water Compliance Enforcement Program office. Updating the FDEP reporting requirements of F.A.C. 62-620 to include nutrient concentration of spills would require FDEP to publish public notice of intent to amend the rule, followed by a 21-day review period and possible public hearing.
- FDEP Wastewater Incident Reporting
- FDEP Public Notice of Pollution
- FDEP Staff
Leandro Garcia, Program Administrator, Water Compliance Enforcement Program, FDEP
Sallie Smith, Water Compliance Enforcement Program, FDEP – wastewater/spill tracking
Update of the spill reporting form and public notice report
Experts or Leads
Jennifer Shafer, Science and Environment Council (lead for local coalition)
Other Wastewater Activities
1.1 Inventory WWTF treatment and capacity and prioritize upgrades to advanced wastewater treatment
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1.2 Understand and manage nutrient loads to areas irrigated with non-advanced wastewater
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1.3 Invest in infrastructure to minimize wastewater spills, emergency releases, and overflows
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1.5 Deliver targeted education and incentives to the public to reduce sewage spills and overflows
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