Opinion

Fish in the Bay May Be the Latest Victims in an Untold South Florida’s Story.

And a few pumps will give politicians a cheap & quick environmental deliverable in time for the 24-hour news cycle until our attention is drawn in another direction. By Jorge Sanchez.

Downtown NEWS
Aug 27 · 4 min read

Downtown and Brickell high-rise buildings are new additions to the South Florida development history. These properties don’t contribute much to the “fertilizer” problem since they don’t have large grass areas or fruit trees. The main source of chemicals & fertilizers entering the Biscayne Bay in “modern times” is probably from canals with runoff from homes & businesses in the Grove, Gables, South Miami, NMB, Hialeah, Medley, Homestead and Miami Beach waterfront. The continued growth in western Dade and Broward has also brought more suburban yards that drain into the Bay through the extensive network of South Florida canals. However, the problem with the Bay is probably much more complicated than “too much fertilizer”.

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Construction of Sewer System. The Miami-Dade sewer system running underneath Miami is as long as a roundtrip Miami-Seattle. Photo, Miami-Dade County.

The sewer system on Pinetree Drive regularly overflows around 47 Street and around various sewage lift stations on Miami Beach. The sewage lines have not been substantially upgraded despite huge redevelopment along the beach, replacing old 2 story motels with skyscrapers — from Sunny Isle down to South Point. The sewage lines run south to the treatment plant at Virginia Key, but sewage spills regularly occur along the way. How many of these new condos and homes near the Bay now also have “pet children” or “emotional support” animals that regularly “go” on the street with the sewage ending up in the Bay? We didn’t have Pottinger 30 years ago with +1000 homeless regularly going to the bathroom outside.

The salinity in the Bay has also been affected since rainwater is now diverted into the storm drainage system instead of allowing the natural rainwater run-off to enter the bay. Not refreshing the Bay water with the normal rainwater run-off due to environmental protection measures has brought unintended consequences. Water from Turkey Point cooling ponds also contributes to water heat and higher salinity in the Bay.

A Little History

When South Florida was mostly agricultural land in the early 1900s with orange groves, tomato farms, avocado and mango groves, etc. farmers used fertilizers & pesticides over vast areas. At the same time, people used the Miami River as an open sewer before treatment plants were installed. Later, people used septic tanks in backyards before sanitary sewage lines were installed.

Dumping into the Bay is nothing new and has been occurring for over 120 years. The big difference is that we now have a lot more people in South Florida and development has pushed further west into wetlands. As people moved west and installed ground water pumps the salinity in the subsoil water increased over the years. Water consumption increases every year due to population increase. People were able to get ground water for irrigation as far east as 7th Ave., but now saltwater intrusion penetrates the sub-soil aquafer as far as the Miami airport. The Miami River salinity has also gradually increased over the years and can no longer be used for irrigation east of 37th Ave.

Thirty years ago in the western part of the City of Miami, east of the Palmetto Express way, I used to see all sorts of occasional animals and bugs that no longer exist in that area. You no longer see any frogs, crickets, light bugs, miniature grasshoppers, love bugs, swarms of miniature fish in canals or an occasional crabs crossing the road. Not even in the winter do you see fish jumping out of the water in the Bay to catch bugs. Fish kills are just one in a long line of animals wiped out by increasing urban density.

The western urban development boundary needs to be preserved and ongoing modernization of our sanitary sewer lines is needed to support the higher population density. Landscaping companies need to curtail the use of toxic pesticides/weed control chemicals, excessive fertilizers and stop industrial dumping into the canal system, not just during warm summer months. The waste water runoff from old landfills, like the NMB Munisport Landfill next to the the Bay needs to be closely monitored (especially now that they built condos on top of it). Sewage spills that regularly contaminate beaches with flesh eating bacteria needs to be stopped. The sins of 150 years cannot be solved with just adding a few pumps to oxygenate the Bay (the fountains will look fantastic at night once they are illuminated).

A few pumps will give politicians a cheap & quick environmental deliverable in time for the 24-hour news cycle until our attention is drawn in another direction. In time, the seasonal winds will shift again and the dead fish & sea grasses will float off in another direction again freeing South Florida to continue doing more of the same.

Jorge Sanchez lives and works in Downtown’s Central Business District.

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Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

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