Friday, February 11, 2011

Public health depends on clean water

In her Feb. 3 guest column, State Representative Trudi Williams advances the agenda of the state’s polluters.  She does so at the expense of public health.
Our favorite waterways are no longer what they used to be.  Partially treated sewage, manure and fertilizer in our water bodies feed toxic algae that threaten the very basis of our way of life.  This pollution is preventable, and it is nothing to mess around with - it is a public health threat.  
Rep. Williams should know – in June 2008, authorities shut down the Olga water plant because an algae bloom released nerve toxins in the Caloosahatchee River.  30,000 residents depend on that plant for their drinking water.   She must also be aware that our coastal retiree population is especially vulnerable to the respiratory distress that accompanies each and every red tide outbreak.
New standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are finally addressing this health threat.  
In her column, Rep. Williams cites improvements in water quality in Tampa and Sarasota Bays in an attempt to claim that Florida doesn’t need federal involvement in our water pollution problems.   She ignores the fact that those improvements are a direct result of the federal Clean Water Act and the federal National Estuary Program. 

Rep. Williams has introduced House Bill 239, which would keep local communities from putting the new EPA standards to work.  Williams says Florida’s water quality regulations are working.  Unfortunately for the state’s waterfront communities, that’s not true.  When state scientists tested water bodies in 2010, they found that more than 1,918 miles of rivers and streams, 378,435 acres of lakes, and 569 square miles of estuaries are badly polluted. 
In Representative Williams’ own backyard, a recent water quality report by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida gave a “D” grade for Williams’ two local waterways – Estero Bay and Pine Island Sound.
Special interests in the state have always blocked the kind of strong pollution standards needed to protect our health by making indefensible cost claims.  Federal standards like the new nutrient pollution limits are the only way public health will ever be the first priority. 
Instead of fighting pollution cleanup, Rep. Williams should work with us to improve water quality so we can all be able to drink water, swim, and fish without getting sick.
Cris Costello
Sierra Club Regional Representative