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.
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.
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
"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
"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."
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."
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.