Sewage problems create algae blooms in Fort Lauderdale waterways

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Parts of Fort Lauderdale have been dealing with a pollution problem in their waterways after months of bad breaks and sewage spilling into their neighborhoods.

A fisherman showed 7News the lasting effects.

When a sewer pipe broke in the Rio Vista neighborhood in December 2019, followed by several more breaks, fisherman Jeff Maggio came close to losing his hopes that the waters in Tarpon New Rivers would ever be the same again.

“The only thing I thought was we’re ground zero now. I had no faith they were gonna fix it fast enough,” he said.

About 211 million gallons of sewage spilled into the rivers. A few days later, the debris and the damage were obvious.

The math is unsettling — the amount of sewage that spilled was enough to fill more than 300 Olympic-sized pools.

“It is unprecedented, the worst in the state’s history,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said. “It was a terrible, terrible event that happened.”

The state fined the city more than $2 million but worked out a deal that will allow that money to pay for cleanup, and the city has hired two environmental companies to figure out how.

“How we can do better in trying to create an environment to enhance the marine life within our community,” Trantalis said.

“This is normal, daily stuff that comes out of the drain,” Maggio said.

Maggio and the others said that’s not enough. One recent afternoon, the waterways seemed idyllic as usual. However, in some spots, trash from street runoffs could be seen, but what’s underneath it scares fishermen the most.

“The amount of algae bloom is astronomical,” Maggio said.

“And it forms like the scum the floats on the top of the water,” said Dr. Brian LaPointe.

7News sent pictures of the algae bloom to LaPointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University.

“When you see that, that’s very characteristic of nutrient-polluted waters,” he said.

Those nutrients can come from different sources, including sewage.

“And once that algae blooms, it can cloud the water, it can overgrow the bottom,” LaPoint said.

The algae bloom has been choking the waterways of oxygen.

“There’s no life! We’ve been out here, we haven’t seen one bird. Not one bird,” Maggio said. “You see that black [on the seawall]? That’s algae. What used to be there was oysters.”

Maggio said this is an example of something that could help mangroves at the water’s edge. It can promote wildlife, and also help lower the temperature of the water and inhibit the growth of the dangerous algae bloom, the opposite effect of smooth concrete seawalls.

“These suggestions, these ideas are really important, and we appreciate folks in our community who step forward and say, ‘Look, we know this could work,'” Trantalis said.

In the meantime, the city continues to revamp its aging infrastructure. Baby steps, water activists hope, that can bring the waterways back to life.

“If we were able to destroy it all, we can also fix it,” Maggio said.

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