Wastewater Project – Worth It or Wasteful?

seahorse-62072__180The Keys are closing in on $800 million spent on sewer projects.  That excludes the tie-in costs and the ongoing operational costs.  So is this huge expenditure worthwhile?

Certainly in some cases, extraordinarily unwise piggy-bank-970340__180decisions have been made.  Taxpayer money has been needlessly squandered, and we’ll never get it back.  The economic environment in some areas has been damaged by extreme funding inequities.  Perhaps for a very long time.  That’s too bad.

In spite of that depressing reality, we can’t lose sight of the goal:  improved water quality and a healthy marine environment.  So what does the data say?  Is water quality improving?  The islands of the Keys influence the near shore waters.  What happens there influences what happens further out.  The waters further out are subject to a multitude of pollution sources, of which the Keys are just one.  So if we look at data from sampling points close to the Keys shoreline, we should see a decrease in measures of pollution over time.

There is an overwhelming amount of data.  I ground through the numbers for the Key Largo area for my last trip to Tallahassee in September 2014.  There definitely does seem to be an improvement in water quality.  I prepared this hand-out:  KeyLargo_OnePager2

Some key quotations from the document.

Data suggests that water quality is improving in Key Largo, where the project is complete and a large proportion of customers are tied in.

Beach sampling shows a 75% decline in fecal bacteria at John Pennekamp State Park, the largest beach area in Key Largo. Water quality sampling shows a decline in Total Nitrogen, a harmful nutrient, from 19 mg/L to under 8 mg/L.

The sewer project had the potential to provide an economic boost.  In the second largest revenue-generating area in the Keys, Key Largo, the opposite is true.  The sewer project is an economic drag because of the extremely unfair distribution of funding.

While the $17 million for new projects is greatly appreciated and will be put to good use, our customers continue to struggle with the financial burden of the sewer project. It is true that government projects create jobs, but so do private businesses.

Unfortunately, the state has been unwilling to do what is needed to support and aid the business community of Key Largo with the excessive financial burden imposed upon them by Monroe County’s unfair funding policies.  It is possible that the Mayfield Grant will be replaced by the Stewardship Bill this year.  Perhaps with this change the state will finally address the issue.

Many local businesses have approached KLWTD to let us know that they are struggling with the costs related to the sewer system: the assessment, the monthly bill, and tie‐in costs. KLWTD has done all we can do to keep costs down so that we can keep rates and assessments as low as possible for our customers. We need the state to continue to fund the Mayfield Grant and allow it to be used for both of its original purposes: financing and refinancing sewer projects in the Florida Keys.

So is the wastewater project worth it or wasteful?  Both.  Water quality definitely seems to be improving.  And that was the point of the whole sewer project.  In the Keys, the environment is the economy.  That is true especially in Key Largo, where many popular dive sites are located.  I found a map at this link.  And I’ve pasted an image of it below.

fl_keys_map_diving sites

So while water quality may be improving, the economic boost it should provide just isn’t what it could be.  Our tax dollars are hard-earned.  It’s too bad they couldn’t have been used to maximize the boost to the local economy while also improving water quality.  Perhaps 2016 will finally be the year that happens.

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