In order to encourage public and private utilities to upgrade the infrastructure supporting their wastewater treatment and pumping systems, two legislators have filed companion bills to offer incentives and create programs to help utilities gain compliance with today's industry standards.
Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, has filed HB 837 and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes -- whose city has been plagued with sewage spills in recent years -- has filed SB 244 -- legislation that arose principally out of Hurricane Irma's aftermath.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, more than 9 million gallons of wastewater were released throughout Florida post-Irma because of loss of power, resulting in 989 separate spills due to loss of power. The spills necessitated "boil water notices" in almost 40 counties.
In recent years, heavy rains have exposed deficiencies in utilities' wastewater pumping capabilities throughout the state of Florida, Edwards points out in a media statement. Due to aging infrastructure that has highlighted the presence of decaying pipes, outdated pumping stations, septic tanks that are susceptible to overflows during flooding, and a lack of generators necessary to keep stations online during a power outage, millions of gallons of wastewater have spilled into waterways and onto city streets throughout the state.
"Protecting our waterways and environmental treasures from overflows or dumping of wastewater will ensure that every Floridian can know that they are safe from harmful pollutants," said Edwards. "While hurricane Irma brought to the forefront the issues our aging wastewater infrastructure presents to the health and well-being of all of our citizens, these problems have been evident in isolated events for years now. This legislation will correct these issues by providing incentives for our public and private utilities to upgrade their systems to prevent future overflows or dumping, while also highlighting those utilities who are meeting industry standards."
If implemented, the legislation would establish the creation of the voluntary Blue Star Collection System Assessment and Maintenance Program, with certification standards to be adopted by the Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC).
The program would provide incentives "to assist public and private utilities in limiting sanitary sewer overflows and the unauthorized discharge of pathogens." It would also require the ERC to publish a public list online every year of Blue Star compliant utilities throughout the state.