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Environmentalists fight Lake Worth over ocean dumping plan

By Joel Hood
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted June 19 2007
 
Lake Worth -- Lake Worth A coalition of environmental advocates and scientists are fighting City Hall to protect what they call one of the last remaining healthy coral reefs along Florida's coast.

On Monday, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection met with the public in Lake Worth to consider a permit that would allow the city to build a desalinization plant and dump the residue into the ocean via a decades-old underground pipe. City officials hope the proposed $7 million plant addresses a growing concern in Lake Worth and across South Florida: salt contaminating the supply of drinking water.



LocalLinks
While the plan represents one city's search to ensure that it has drinking water for generations to come, the impact of dumping concentrated saltwater residue off Palm Beach County's coast could have far-reaching environmental effects that aren't completely understood, coalition members say.

They argue that the nutrient-rich discharge would further damage the Horseshoe Reef about a mile offshore, harming the underwater habitat and food supply for countless oceanic species and dealing a serious blow to the county's billion-dollar tourism industry.

State biologists say the risks are exaggerated. They say discharge from the desalinization plant would have minimal effects, comparing its contaminants to what's found in rainfall.

It could be months before the state decides to grant the permit, but environmentalists already fired a preemptive strike, staging a news conference earlier Monday in which they raised concerns about the plan and threatened legal action if the permit is approved.

"The DEP is rubber-stamping these permits and they haven't done the science," said Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.

"Reef systems up and down the Florida coast are choked with deadly algae blooms," he said, linking that proliferation to nutrient discharges like the one proposed off the Lake Worth Inlet.

Lake Worth is seeking a wastewater dumping permit similar to what Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter and other cities use to dispose of sewage water.

State officials say the Palm Beach County coastline already receives about 15 tons of wastewater discharge a day, which combined with the effects of pollution and global warming already causes considerable stress on the coral reefs. They say Lake Worth's discharge, a saltwater concentrate half the strength of ocean water, would be "incidental."

"There are already many things that threaten the impact of the reefs," said Fred Bloetscher, an environmental engineer and associate professor at Florida Atlantic University. "The worst this would do is float to the surface to be consumed by plankton."

However, the environmental coalition presented two nationally recognized experts in ocean sciences to refute the state's assessment. Thomas Goreau, the Harvard-educated president of the nonprofit Global Coral Reef Alliance, and Mike Risk, professor of environmental sciences at McMasters University in Canada, vehemently argued that there is no such thing as "a safe level" of ocean contaminants.

"Every time you get more nutrients into the coral, it expands and kills more coral," Goreau said. "Nutrients act like a fertilizer."

Three years ago, after fears of saltwater intrusion into its drinking water supply, Lake Worth settled on a plan to build a desalinization plant using reverse osmosis. While the process successfully removes hazardous saltwater from drinking water, it creates a saltwater byproduct that needs to be dealt with. City officials looked into building injection wells that would pump the water underground but decided it was too costly, said Lake Worth Utilities Director Samy Faried. One well would cost about $11.5 million and raise water rates by about $6 a month for average residents, he said.

Dumping the water into the ocean through an existing underground pipe used for sewage discharge 30 years ago was a less-expensive alternative, Faried said, costing only about $4 million a year and raising rates about $2.50 a month on average.




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VIDEO: Environmentalists sound off on Lake Worth water dumping proposal

VIDEO: Environmentalists sound off on Lake Worth water dumping proposal


PHOTO
Divided opinions

Divided opinions
See larger image
(Sun-Sentinel/ John L. White)
Jun 19, 2007


Dr. Paul McGinnes does not believe the waste water to be nutrient-laden

Dr. Paul McGinnes does not believe the waste water to be nutrient-laden
See larger image
(Sun-Sentinel/John L. White)
Jun 18, 2007




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