For Immediate Release
Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D.
Executive Director & Waterkeeper, Miami Waterkeeper
Elizabeth Fata Carpenter
Managing Attorney, Everglades Law Center
LOCAL GROUPS GIVE MIAMI-DADE COUNTY STORMWATER PERMIT COMPLIANCE AN AVERAGE GRADE OF C-
The report shows that most local governments are not meeting stormwater regulatory standards.
May 23, 2022
Miami, Fl – Ahead of the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit, Everglades Law Center and Miami Waterkeeper released their collaborative Miami-Dade County Stormwater Report Card. Their research indicates that most local governments are not meeting the requirements of stormwater system regulations, potentially allowing additional pollution to enter Biscayne Bay. The review identifies that none of the municipal separate storm sewer system (“MS4”) permit holders achieved full compliance and that many are not even meeting 70% compliance with regulatory requirements. The audit found an average grade of C- on compliance standards amongst Miami-Dade County and its 32 Co-permittees, although Miami Dade County itself earned a B-. The report also shows a wide disparity in both compliance and effort on the part of local governments, as well as a pattern of protracted non-compliance and little enforcement. Given that stormwater is one of the most significant sources of pollution entering Biscayne Bay, the report identifies an urgent need for immediate compliance in critical areas to control pollution.
STORMWATER RUNOFF IS HARMING BISCAYNE BAY
Biscayne Bay is the jewel of Miami-Dade County. Its health is crucial to our economy and our environment. But Biscayne Bay is at a tipping point and cannot absorb more pollution, as demonstrated by recent seagrass die-offs and fish kills. Stormwater systems bring debris, chemicals, fertilizers, pet waste, and more into local waterways.
Because of the potential to carry pollution to the waters of the United States, stormwater discharge is regulated under the Clean Water Act by the State of Florida under the “MS4” permit program. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) provides regulatory oversight to ensure that stormwater pollution is intercepted or prevented before it reaches waterways. Miami-Dade County is a Co-permittee along with 32 local municipalities under a five-year MS4 permit, set to be renewed this year. The City of Miami and the City of Hialeah have MS4 permits of their own.
Everglades Law Center and Miami Waterkeeper evaluated the MS4 permit compliance efforts of 35 Miami-Dade entities. The groups developed a rubric to grade each municipality’s 2020 Annual Report to FDEP based on 20 key permit terms evaluated by four independent reviewers. The rubric generated two scores for each Permittee: a binary compliance standard (“are requirements being met?”), and a qualitative compliance assessment (“how well are the requirements being met?”).
When graded on binary compliance standards, the average score amongst Miami-Dade County and its co-permittees was a “C-.“ Three municipalities met less than 60% of compliance requirements. When graded on how well requirements are being met, the average score was a “D.” Just under half of the permit holders do not have a written stormwater management program. A similar number did not provide a complete stormwater system map. Less than 30% of permittees fulfilled all of their structural maintenance requirements, and almost 35% of permittees performed no proactive inspections for illicit discharges, according to their self-disclosed documents and 2020 Annual Reports.
“This poor compliance level is undoubtedly leading to deteriorating water quality in Biscayne Bay, with stormwater runoff being one of the main sources of pollution in our waterways,” said Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper. “It is imperative to get this pollution under control immediately to protect our way of life here in Miami. After all, clean water is what makes Miami, Miami.”
Targeted regulatory records review revealed that FDEP compliance and enforcement were limited and that Miami-Dade County had little coordination and oversight over Co-permittees.
IMPROVING THE SYSTEM
In addition to objectively measuring MS4 permit compliance across the County, the report offers recommendations to improve compliance and improve the overall quality of the MS4 permits.
“One particularly important area that needs to be addressed in an updated permit is ensuring that all municipalities are required to not only monitor stormwater quality but also reduce their stormwater pollution to meet water quality standards,” said Elizabeth Fata Carpenter, Managing Attorney for the Everglades Law Center. “This upcoming five-year permit cycle renewal presents a key opportunity for improvement of both compliance and permit terms.”
Miami-Dade County and its 32 Co-permittees are re-applying for MS4 permit coverage by the end of June 2022. The teams hope that this report and recommendations will inform future regulatory actions and a more robust, re-issued permit.
The organizations will present the Report Card during the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit on May 25, 2022. The event will occur at Florida International University’s Kovens Conference Center, beginning at 8:30 AM.
The StoryMap and the full report can be found at www.miamiwaterkeeper.org/stormwater.
About Miami Waterkeeper
Miami Waterkeeper is a South Florida-based non-profit. Our mission is to protect the water you love. We work to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all, ultimately working for clean and vibrant waters and associated coastal culture for generations to come. For more information, visit www.miamiwaterkeeper.org.
About Everglades Law Center
The Everglades Law Center is a nonprofit law firm dedicated to representing the public interest in environmental and land use matters. Our mission is to advocate, negotiate, and when necessary, litigate to protect and restore the South Florida ecosystem. For more information, visit evergladeslaw.org.