Expert: City’s Stormwater Program Not Polluting Bay


Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Expert: City’s Stormwater Program Not Polluting Bay:

No water quality concerns with pump system

As the City of Miami Beach undertook unprecedented action to protect its lowest lying areas from sea level rise, it also launched its own water quality sampling program. This week, a water quality expert said there is no indication the City’s stormwater management system is polluting Biscayne Bay.
While Miami-Dade County has a sampling network of 90 stations Countywide, the City added 60 of its own sampling points in late 2016 to better understand local water quality. The first full year of sampling was completed in February of this year. The City then retained a third-party expert, Dr. Charles Rowney, to analyze the data and evaluate the program design. Rowney has over 35 years of experience in assessing, implementing, and interpreting water quality programs.
Margarita Wells, Assistant Director of Environment and Sustainability, told the Commission’s Sustainability and Resiliency Committee this week that Miami Beach is “one of the only municipalities to have our own [water quality sampling] program.” She noted, “The program is crucial in ensuring that our decisions are data-driven.”
Rowney told the Committee, “The monitoring program you have in place is an excellent start in a complex situation… The program right now is a good screening program. It will not answer a tremendous amount of detail, but if there was something major going on there for a long period of time, the odds of that escaping at this point, of not being detected or noticed in some way, are pretty low.”
“So, I think you can be pretty confident – although the program cannot be perfect, you can’t sample every possible drop, you can’t measure every possible thing that’s out there… – It would be hard to miss something really massive.”
Rowney said, while it will take more time to understand trends, the current program “does give you a good basis for today and how we understand that [stormwater] system to work.”
“We don’t believe there’s any basis to conclude, based on the data available today, that there is a gross and persistent sanitary system discharge into those waters,” he told the Committee.
Regarding levels of bacteria, he said, “There is definitely reason to be aware that you do have indicator bacteria out there. That by itself is not unexpected. I would send up rockets if you didn’t have it because you find these indicator bacteria. They’re a result of animals in the area. They’re a result of all kinds of things that could be going on as part of the normal city activity, so the fact that you’re finding indicator bacteria is not a surprise. It’s not a cause for alarm particularly. If you found concentrations in the millions that might be an indication that you really are dealing with sanitary discharges, but the numbers we’re seeing there for the most part are consistent with stormwater, so not unexpected.”
Rowney said his team went out with City sampling crews. “We were in the boat. We watched every detail that we could as to how they do the sampling, what they pick up out there, what it is they see, how they transport the stuff, and I will say those crews are motivated. They are working hard. They’re consistent. They’re doing all the sorts of things you would hope that a conscientious public sector employee would do.”
He said the crews could benefit from written SOPS [Standard Operating Procedures], “to provide better strength, quality control, usability of the information and consistency from time to time, some added guidance and supervision.”
“You’ve got some good crews. Give them the tools to do the job,” Rowney said.
Summing up, he told the Committee, “We don’t believe there’s anything out there that we’ve seen that says you better run out and start doing something major, really different right now. You don’t have the numbers that say over in this corner we’ve found something terrible. You don’t have anything that says it’s completely inadequate.”
“You now know enough to understand the system. You know enough to make this program better. I would say your introductory year of sampling is a great success to achieve that. The responsible thing now is to fine tune it, improve your ability to do these measurements in the future, get better and better results, accumulate your data over time and move forward,” he concluded.
Commissioner Mark Samuelian said, “I think this is encouraging news” noting “This has been an important question in the community about water quality.” 
Samuelian told City staff, “I’m very pleased with the transparency we’re showing, going and bringing in academics, other views.”
“We may need to reflect on how we communicate on this issue,” he said. As people have “seen things coming out of the pumps, it’s caused concern. As we continue to digest this report that should be on the agenda as well but I think this is encouraging news for our program.”
Rowney's findings are here.

Photo courtesy City of Miami Beach

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