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Rather than pump waste into the ocean, it will be injected into a deep well

Sun-Sentinel - 12/20/2006 12:00:00 AM
by Editorial Board

Some in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach still question whether the human waste being pumped into the ocean through their treatment plant's outfall pipe really is killing off a nearby reef. Which is kind of like sticking your head in the sediment, given the convincing evidence at hand.

But both southern Palm Beach County cities deserve kudos for not letting that skepticism get in the way of doing the right thing. In the process, they are very likely saving a popular South Florida diving reef and setting a responsible example for similar plants in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Injecting the treated waste 3,500 feet below ground through a new $17 million deep injection well will surely cost Delray and Boynton ratepayers.

But it should be worth it. As part of a proven, heavily regulated process, the injected waste is trapped deep underground, keeping it from harming drinking supplies or the environment. As a backup, monitoring wells make sure the effluent doesn't seep upwards. The best part is that the new well means an outfall pipe that pumps 13 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean every day will no longer be needed.

A group of divers called Reef Rescue, armed with documentation that the waste spewing from the pipe has spawned nutrient-loving algae blooms that are suffocating the Gulf Stream Reef, has long lobbied for the pipe's removal. The state wasn't going to go that far, but persuaded by the evidence, it was considering restricting the pipe's daily discharge.

The cities deserve credit for taking the initiative and killing the need for the pipe altogether. In fact, five other outfall pipes across South Florida are still pumping away, potentially damaging the region's fragile marine environment. Officials should explore whether it's time to replace those pipes, too, with less harmful, and more responsible, disposal techniques.

BOTTOM LINE: Other South Florida plants should consider making the switch, too.