Florida is home to more registered boats than any other of the 28 states evaluated in a study released Thursday by the group Environment Florida. The “Summer Fun Index” compiled by the group’s research and policy center shows that more than 37 million people visit the Sunshine State’s waterways each year.
“There’s nothing quite like boating in Tampa Bay,” said Jennifer Rubiello, the state director for Environment Florida.
In addition to having a boat load of, well, boats, Florida also ranked in the top five for the number of registered fishers and summer camps with water activities.
That’s why Rubiello said it’s so important that Florida especially abide by new Clean Water standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Clean Water Rule approved in May went into effect August 28 and requires permitting for any dumping into or polluting of waterways including rivers and streams.
Based on a series of Supreme Court decisions and more than 800,000 public comments in favor of the Clean Water Rule, the updated regulation now includes smaller bodies of water that feed into larger systems.
In the Tampa Bay area, that means recreational hotspots like the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay are now protected under the rule.
That’s important because, as Rubiello said, anyone who paid attention in third grade knows that all water is connected.
“It’s important to us that we invest in protecting our waterfront,” said St. Pete City Council member Karl Nurse during a press conference overlooking the downtown waterfront.
The EPA’s Clean Water Rule deals primarily with pollution from industrial facilities, and safeguards over 20 millions acres of wetlands from development. The rule also helps local governments more effectively implement the Clean Water Act.
That means that the city’s recent 31 million gallon dump of raw and partially treated sewage wasn’t a no-no under the federal protection.
Instead, Nurse said it’s a graphic illustration of a much broader problem St. Pete and many cities across the nation are facing. That is an aging storm and wastewater infrastructure that isn’t keeping up with repairs.
The city was forced to make a decision about what to do with overflowing sewage in the midst of a historical rain event in early August. The result was 16 million gallons of raw sewage dumped into environmentally sensitive lands plus another 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage.
The high-profile and much debated dump has shone a spotlight on the city’s water infrastructure.
“There are pipes underneath you right now that are 75 years old,” Nurse said, adding that at the rate the city is keeping up with repairs, they’d need to last another 75 years.
That’s not likely to happen.
Nurse said he expects there to ultimately be $500 million in necessary improvements to the city’s system.
In the meantime, St. Pete residents can still enjoy a Bay that is the healthiest it’s been in several decades with the hope that it will stay that way based on the newly implemented rule.
“Water-related recreation is a major part of why people live in Tampa Bay,” Nurse said.