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Rick Scott orders inquiry into storm-related sewage spills

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Sewage systems overflowed across Florida because of Hurricane Matthew, and Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to find out how to prevent it from happening again.

“Florida is famous for our pristine environment, world-class beaches, and award-winning state parks,” Scott said Wednesday in a press release. “We must do all we can to protect our natural resources to ensure everyone in our state has access to clean and safe water.”

Scott’s office said the department would “evaluate the overflows, determine the underlying causes, and work with wastewater utilities to identify solutions that will help prevent overflows in the future to ensure clean drinking water and healthy waterways.”

After Hurricane Hermine had caused similar overflows, and a sinkhole at a Polk County phosphate mine sent millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the aquifer, Scott ordered department secretary Jon Steverson to draft regulations requiring utilities to notify the department, the public, and local government of any spills within 24 hours.

Following Matthew, for example, in Duval County authorities reported that loss of electricity to treatment facilities resulted in spills of millions of gallons from seven sewage treatment plants, three of which polluted the Ortega River, Pottsburg Creek, and the St. Johns River.

“I encourage utilities across the state to work with DEP to address this important issue since we know storms will continue to impact our state,” Scott said. “We will continue to aggressively make sure everyone has clean water to drink and can enjoy our beautiful waterways and beaches.”

The department planned to begin by gathering information about sewer overflows from the utilities involved, spokeswoman Jessica Boyd said via email.

“DEP’s environmental specialists will review the data to assess the situation and the overall impact to the environment. DEP will also work to determine causes and possible solutions to prevent sewer overflows in the future,” she said.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry lauded the move by Gov. Scott, his reliable political ally.

“I applaud Governor Scott’s call for a statewide investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection into hurricane-related sewage discharges like those occurring in Jacksonville, as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Determining the causes of sewage spills will help wastewater utilities devise ways to prevent these dangerous overflows in the future,” Curry said in a statement from his office Wednesday.

“As mayor,” Curry added, “public safety is my number one priority. To ensure the health and safety of our residents, it is critical that we understand the causes of these sewer breaches and take appropriate steps to prevent them. The governor’s response to the sewer overflow problem in Jacksonville and other Florida communities will help us do both.”

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