News: Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper Threatens to Sue the County

Earlier this week Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper sent a Letter of Intent to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, and John Renfrow, Director, Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer District. The gist? If the County didn’t get its act together vis-a-vis the sewage problem in Biscayne Bay within the next 60 days, BBWK would sue. Now the action may not be quite the environmental equivalent of The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but it at least shows the clock’s fast approaching High Noon. For Miami’s sake, and for the sake of our beloved Bay, let’s hope there’s resolution instead of a showdown.

SunPost reached out to BBWK Executive Director Alexis Segal and asked her to fill us in.

Before we begin, would you please give us a brief description of Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers?

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper (BBWK) is a grassroots not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection, conservation and improvement of the water quality in the Biscayne Bay watershed. BBWK’s mission is defending, protecting, and preserving the aquatic integrity of Biscayne Bay and its surrounding waters through citizen involvement and community action.

As its advocate, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper utilizes a solutions-oriented approach to identify and then mitigate threats to the Bay. BBWK seeks to engage the community and encourage increased stewardship of our natural resources through education, outreach, citizen engagement and advocacy. The organization was founded by locals who grew up in Miami . We went to high school together; all went on to do different things and a couple of years ago, two of us wanted to bring the Waterkeeper Movement to Miami. We brought the idea and the will/passion here and have been working hard to build BBWK ever since. Many of our biggest supporters and a couple of our Board members are friends from growing up. So many of our fondest memories are times spent in the outdoors, on the Bay, on the beach, learning about our “native habitat”. The mission is personal to us. We want to see our hometown, our community and our natural resources thrive.

What’s prompting BBWK to consider suing Miami-Dade County?

Having grown up in Miami, I knew about the sewage problems, and the buzz around town with scientists is that is that the issue has at times compromised our water quality. After we launched The Swim Guide (a free mobile app that reports water quality tests done by the Department of Health), we started tracking the testing results, as well the history of water quality testing, and we saw public information dissemination and proper funding for these testing programs were majorly lacking. I then started receiving very frequent notices from the County about sewage leaks and spills all over the County. We wondered why this was happening and happening with such frequency. Delving into the history of our infrastructure development, we learned sewage spills and systemic problems have been endemic to Dade County for a very long time.

It’s our tax dollars, and it’s our sewage infrastructure that we’ve entrusted to our local leadership and for years, they’ve been asleep at the wheel, content with not prioritizing or kicking the can down the road. These are problems we cannot afford to ignore – for business, for health and safety, for tourism and for ecological reasons.

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper’s decision to issue a notice of intent to sue Miami-Dade County on October 8, 2012, aims to correct these problems. Legal intervention is our best opportunity to change the way we make decisions about the bay. It includes asking for better standards of infrastructure finance feasibility, water quality monitoring, information sharing, civic engagement, and program management. BBWK plans to utilize experts and concerned citizens to clearly define solutions.

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