Op-Ed

Government needs to take bold action to save Biscayne Bay and our supply of clean water | Opinion

A woman walks along a flooded sidewalk along Alton Road in Miami Beach. New research from NOAA suggests this kind of flooding could happen every day by 2070 under most climate models.
A woman walks along a flooded sidewalk along Alton Road in Miami Beach. New research from NOAA suggests this kind of flooding could happen every day by 2070 under most climate models. Miami Herald

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.

And last 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, compromising septic systems, stormwater drainage and farmland.

What’s at stake as the pressures on our water accelerate? The health of our economy, our environment and our residents 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 affects of climate change intensify.

Last Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners voted to pass a package of legislation I introduced aimed at tackling the mounting threats to our clean water. The policies target key areas, including the following:

- Identifying weaknesses in our current sewer system and more swiftly diverting or shutting off flows as soon as major problems are detected to prevent future pipe breaks from dumping sewage into the bay before they can be repaired.

- Completing the coastal wetland restoration projects, long overdue, that are critical to the health of Biscayne Bay. I’m proud that the county will now partner with the South Florida Water Management District in the Cutler Wetland Flow-way project, an important step toward restoring the natural flow of fresh water to the bay — rejuvenating seagrass beds and helping protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion.

- Following the lead of communities across the country already working to reduce pollution from single-use plastics. However, state preemption is preventing local officials in Florida from acting to protect health and the environment. We voted to urge the Florida Legislature to repeal laws that preempt cities and counties from regulating the use and sale of disposable plastic.

- Looking for new solutions by adopting cutting-edge, sustainable technology, rather than continuing business as usual. We urged the State to provide funding for local pilot projects focused on new 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 bay, including banning Styrofoam in parks and improving storm drain maintenance. I passed legislation requiring a report on the health of Biscayne Bay 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.

We cannot be one power failure or burst pipe away from a massive spill. In the immediate short term, we must limit the damage of future sewage spills. 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. I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to begin turning the tide on our water crisis.

Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission. She is a candidate for county mayor.

  Comments