21 October 2005

USA: Scuba divers say sewage is killing coral reef

State environmental regulators are investigating a pump that's dumping treated sewage into the Atlantic Ocean after recreational scuba divers said it was killing a coral reef.

The group, Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, says a pipe from the South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant is spewing nitrogen-rich sewage that's fueling algae blooms. The algae are fouling the Gulf Stream Reef, a popular diving spot off Boynton Beach a mile and a half away from the pipe, the divers say.

The group has been collecting data on the material coming out of the pipe of the treatment plant, which is operated by the towns of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Palm Beach County's environmental department say the group has built a compelling case.

But plant director Robert Hagel said he's not convinced that the pipe's effluent is hurting the reef, noting that algae blooms have been reported on other reefs under Gulf Stream waters.

County officials have told plant officials to begin monitoring water near the pipe and the reef and to try to think of a way to lower the amount of nitrogen being pumped into the ocean. Plant officials were also told to look into whether extending the pipe farther out into the ocean might ease the impact on the reef.

The federal Clean Water Act requires sewage plants to demonstrate that their discharge doesn't degrade the water it goes into.

Several pipes dump wastewater into the ocean off the Florida coast. Near the plant in question, other pipes operated by Boca Raton, Broward County and Hollywood flow into the sea.

The Delray Beach-Boynton Beach plant has already reduced its effluent flowing into the Atlantic by diverting some to agricultural irrigation.

Source: www.sptimes.com


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