State Senator Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) and State Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R-Boca Raton, Highland Beach) teamed up this week to introduce Senate Bill 172/House Bill 177, termed the “Safe Waterways Act.” The legislation will dramatically improve public notification when beach waters, canals, intracoastalways and public bathing places are impaired by fecal indicator bacteria.
Millions of Florida residents and tens of millions of domestic and international tourists recreate in Florida’s beaches, springs, and waterways every year. But many might be surprised to know that nearly one million acres of coastal estuaries and nine thousand miles of Florida’s streams and rivers are deemed impaired by fecal indicator bacteria. Sources of contamination include aging and malfunctioning sewage treatment plants, septic tanks, landscape runoff, chemical runoffs, and animal waste.
Exposure to elevated bacteria levels in the water can cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, chills and fever. Skin rashes and infections of the eyes, ears, nose and throat may also occur.
“The public has a right to know whether the beaches and waters they’re swimming in are infested with fecal bacteria. Florida is failing in its responsibility to promptly inform the public and protect their health when water samples fail to meet safe levels,” said Senator Berman. “All we’re asking for is transparency in water quality and consistency in public notification so everyone can properly enjoy our prized waters.”
“This bill will enable the public to be informed promptly through their city’s management and public safety department when their waterways are deemed unsafe and hazardous to use, this includes beach users, boaters, paddleboarders, swimmers, and all those utilizing our wonderful water environments,” said Representative Gossett-Seidman.
The Safe Waterways Act will:
- Require DOH to adopt and enforce rules to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons using beach waters and public bathing places;
- Require DOH to issue health advisories when a water body fails to meet water quality standards;
- Require the closure of waterbodies that fail to meet standards if DOH deems it necessary;
- Prescribe conspicuous signage requirements for health advisories;
- Specifically inform the municipalities directly affected by the contaminated waterways; and
- Establish a public statewide interagency database for the reporting of fecal indicator bacteria data.
“It has been 50 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act and we still do not have swimmable fishable waters across the state of Florida. Fecal bacteria pollution is getting worse and people deserve to know whether the water that they are swimming in is polluted. This bill will help to inform people of dangerous conditions and spur action towards fixing those problems” said Jen Lomberk, Matanzas Riverkeeper and Chair of Waterkeepers Florida.
“For too long, Floridians have been vulnerable to getting sick, or worse, from recreating in the state’s beach waters due to inconsistencies in beach water quality testing and public notification for fecal bacteria. This legislation will protect the health, safety, and welfare of beachgoers, residents and visitors alike, and preserve the vital economic engine that depends on them throughout the Sunshine State,” said Emma Haydocy, Florida Policy Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. “We all deserve the right to enjoy Florida’s world-class beaches and waves without fear of serious illness.”
“Fecal bacteria contamination in state waters has become widespread and increased risk has become a serious health hazard. The public deserves consistent state policy on waterborne bacterial contamination and this bill will address the policy and information gaps, benefiting those recreating in state waters,” said John Cassani, a recently retired Calusa Waterkeeper.
“Florida’s beaches are our state’s economic drivers, and we need accountability and transparency for locals and visitors alike when water quality is less than pure,” said Haley Busch, Outreach Director of 1000 Friends of Florida.