It seems like every week brings a new, more alarming reminder of the mounting threats to our community’s water system.
In August, a grand jury declared that the health of Biscayne Bay is near an ecological tipping point and if we don’t act, the damage may become irreversible.
Less than a week later, a pipe long overdue for replacement ruptured beneath the Oleta River, dumping over 1.6 million gallons of sewage into Biscayne Bay before emergency workers could cut off the flow. In total, the Water and Sewer Department reported four major incidents due to failing sewerage infrastructure over just the last eight weeks.
And this past weekend, the most recent round of king tides – which have been steadily worsening with rising sea levels – resulted in tides nearly three feet above normal. Increased groundwater levels literally bubbled up as saltwater pressed inland from the bay and this compromises septic systems, stormwater drainage and even farmland.
What’s at stake as the pressures on our water supply accelerate? The health of our economy, our environment, and our residents – they all hinge on access to clean water. Biscayne Bay is giving every indication that it’s careening toward collapse, in part as a result of decades of neglect to critical infrastructure.
We need to take bold, immediate action to protect our clean water and prepare for the future we know is coming as the effects of climate change intensify.
This week, I’m offering three specific resolutions that offer a path forward on water-related issues that are aimed at tackling this crisis:
- We need to target weaknesses in our sewer system, and find ways to swiftly divert or shut off flows as soon as major problems are detected – to prevent future spills from continuing to dump sewage until repairs can be completed.
- The coastal wetland restoration projects critical to the health of Biscayne Bay are long overdue. I have been calling for swift action and the completion of these projects for many years now. I’m proud to bring a resolution making the county a partner with the South Florida Water Management District in the “Cutler Wetland flow-way” project, which is an important step toward restoring natural flow of fresh water to the Bay – rejuvenating seagrass beds and even helping protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion.
- Finally, instead of business as usual, we must also look for new solutions by adopting cutting-edge, sustainable technology. I’m offering a resolution seeking opportunities to partner with the state to pilot advanced, environmentally friendly bio-solid processing technologies.
I’m proud to have earned the nickname “Water Warrior” by fighting to prioritize and protect our community’s waters. As commissioner, I have pushed for the county to aggressively step up our efforts to safeguard the health of the bay, including combating pollution by banning Styrofoam in parks and improving storm drain maintenance.
I passed legislation requiring a report on the bay’s health and a study on the alarming rate of seagrass die-off, and helped expand bay water quality monitoring.
My office is proud to support the advocates and scientists leading the charge on bay protection, including sponsoring the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit, which is committed to creating long-term, sustainable environmental health initiatives.
In the immediate short-term, we must limit the damage of future sewage spills. We cannot be one power failure or pipe burst away from a massive spill. But we also urgently need forward-looking plans to protect our community for the future.
I will continue to push to accelerate pipe replacement and fund the conversion from septic to a sanitary sewer system. And I’ll keep fighting for policies that aim not only to adapt to but mitigate the effects of climate change, like moving toward a clean energy future.
Our clean water is at the heart of our community’s identity and prosperity. Far too much is at stake to take it for granted: We need leadership, collaboration, and bold action to begin turning the tide on our water crisis.
Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.