The situation with Marathon’s wastewater system is very serious. The new City Manager will have to turn things around. But Marathon isn’t the only one with long-term problems.
Before I continue, let me say that every wastewater system is going to have issues from time to time, especially in the Keys where effluent requirements are very strict. There will be the occasional back-up or the occasional spill. I’m focusing on systems with significant long-term issues.
As I looked through documents on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) OCULUS system, I discovered another system in the Keys which has had persistent problems: Big Coppitt. The Big Coppitt wastewater treatment facility is owned and operated by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA). A review of the monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) shows that the plant was out of compliance five months out of twelve in 2014. From an inspection report prepared by FDEP in January 2015:
TSS exceedances to reuse were reported on the December 2014 (1 reported exceedance attributed to filter problems), October 2014 (1 reported exceedance attributed to process problems), September 2014 (4 reported exceedances attributed to heavy rain and a failed backwash blower), May 2014 (1 reported exceedance attributed to plant upset), and April 2014 (3 reported exceedances attributed to plant upset) DMRs. Department staff requested that additional information regarding the cause or causes of exceedances as well as corrective actions taken be included in the DMR comments.
Another exceedance was reported on the February 2015 DMR, but no others since then. A follow-up inspection performed in May 2015 indicates that the facility is considered to be in compliance.
I know that some folks in Marathon are looking to FKAA to solve their wastewater problems. But it turns out that FKAA has had significant long-term problems of its own. The fact that FKAA has had troubles does not concern me in and of itself. Every wastewater utility struggles with plant upsets, equipment failures, and a multitude of other issues. What is most troubling is that the Big Coppitt problems were never disclosed to the FKAA Board in any way that is accessible to the public. I’ve looked through the meeting agendas from January through July 2015 – nothing.
I accidentally discovered the issue only because I was researching a blog post about wastewater operating costs throughout the Keys. I was looking for monthly influent flows and noticed that several of Big Coppitt’s DMRs mentioned exceedances. That prompted me to look in the Discovery/Compliance section, where I found the compliance assistance letter and the follow-up inspection report. The fact that FKAA is secretive about operating issues isn’t “wrong” in the sense that its illegal. They are required to submit accurate reports to FDEP and it appears that they have. They haven’t been so forthcoming with the FKAA Board or the public. That is something that Marathon will need to take into consideration if they are serious about the idea of FKAA operating their wastewater system.
All the documents mentioned in this post are listed below.