Environmentalists Sue EPA Over Florida Water Quality, Manatee Deaths
TALLAHASSEE – Three conservation groups have filed a second federal lawsuit over poor water quality in Florida, blamed for “catastrophic mortality” of manatees.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Save the Manatee Club filed the suit Tuesday in federal court in Orlando. The groups are seeking to demand that the US Environmental Protection Agency resume talks with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service over water quality in the Indian River Lagoon, which has been the site of many manatee deaths in 2021. and this year.
The lawsuit, which also argues that sea turtles are harmed by water degradation, alleges that water quality standards set in 2009 are not “sufficiently followed or enforced”. Lawsuit says ‘uncontrolled pollution’ in Indian River lagoon from sewage treatment discharges, leaking septic tanks, fertilizer runoff and other sources that killed thousands of acres of grass marine life, which manatees depend on for food.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection in 2009 set “Total Maximum Daily Loads” for nitrogen and phosphorus. These levels were to preserve the natural balance of flora and fauna in the lagoon without affecting manatees and other species. The EPA approved the state levels in 2013.
“New information demonstrates that TMDLs ignore contributions from historic pollution sources, underestimate contributions from septic systems, and ignore the impacts of climate change,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the environmental law organization Earthjustice.
“This failure harms manatees, green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, smalltooth sawfish and other ESA-listed species that depend on the health of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem. thereby reducing the plaintiffs’ members’ opportunities to observe and enjoy them in their natural habitats,” the lawsuit said, using an acronym for the federal Endangered Species Act.
The number of manatee deaths in Florida rose to 1,101 last year, from an average of 625 in the previous five years. The state had already recorded 537 deaths through April 29 this year.
Many deaths in 2021 and this year have been caused by starving manatees due to a lack of seagrass. Personal watercraft have caused 112 manatee deaths per year for the past six years, including 103 in 2021.
The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Services have sought in recent months to compensate for the loss of seagrass by providing more than 200,000 pounds of lettuce to starving manatees.
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The unprecedented feeding program took place from December 14 to March 31, primarily around Florida Power & Light’s Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center, where manatees congregate in the winter in search of warm water.
The lawsuit also alleges that the EPA denied an Aug. 10, 2021, request from the Fish and Wildlife Service to restart water quality discussions as required by the Endangered Species Act.
In February, the three conservation groups filed a separate lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, DC, claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Endangered Species Act.
This lawsuit, which is ongoing, argued that the federal wildlife agency had not made a final decision on a 2008 petition to review what is called a “critical habitat” designation. for manatees. The lawsuit described these designations as essential “to ensure the survival and effect the recovery of species at risk such as the Florida manatee.”
In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service changed the list of manatees from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida