Letter: Wellfield Pollution Is A Major Problem

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio is now taking her personal fight against the extension of State Road 7 (thwarting the wishes of the majority of residents that would benefit) to Washington, D.C. She argues that the SR 7 extension will pollute the Grassy Waters Preserve, the water supply for the City of West Palm Beach. Mayor Muoio needs to direct her concerns about West Palm Beach’s water supply right here at home in Palm Beach County.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, surface water can become polluted by hazardous materials that dissolve or mix into the water. There are a variety of sources that can contribute to the contamination of water sources. There are two forms of water pollutants. One is point source and the other is nonpoint source. A point source pollutant can be a substance that flows directly into surface water. An example of this would be the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. A nonpoint source occurs when a pollutant is introduced via an indirect environmental change. This can include fertilizer contaminating a stream as a result of being carried out by the rain.

Industrial pollution of water also is a concern — and not just for the city of West Palm Beach. Palm Beach County’s drinking water supply faces increased pollution risks due to budget cuts that leave fewer people guarding against potential contamination. Since the 1980s, the county’s voter-approved wellfield protection program provided a defense against gas stations, oil change shops, dry cleaners and industrial development polluting the wells that provide 80 percent of the local drinking water. But the Palm Beach County Commission this year cut funding for the program and already is scaling back inspections of potential polluters.

Surface water can also be contaminated by mercury from the cement plants as well as coal and gas power plants in Palm Beach County. Mercury is not the only toxin coming out of the stack of a cement plant. They also emit things like ammonia, benzene, certain glycol ethers, chromium, diethanolamine, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, ethylene glycol, lead, manganese, sulfuric acid and zinc compound. These find their way into surface water.

Note: The current Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and governor are responsible for making a deal with the EPA, delaying federal pollution rules. Gov. Scott recently signed HB 7051, which waives legislative ratification for proposed state rules to replace the federal numeric nutrient criteria.

As for the city of West Palm Beach, according to a 2011 Emergency Order from the South Florida Water Management District, that addressed last year’s water shortage for the city, the City of West Palm Beach primarily receives its drinking water from eight surface water pumps at two locations on Clear Lake. Clear Lake receives discharges from Lake Mangonia and the M-Canal. The M-Canal is supplied by rainfall/runoff collected in the city’s water catchment area, flows from the city’s wellfield, and two 65,000-gallon-per-minute pumps at the L-8 Tieback Canal. Interestingly, there is no mention of Grassy Waters in this report.

During last year’s water shortage, West Palm Beach was forced to purchase water from Palm Beach County. So will West Palm Beach continue its dependence on its current water resources, with Palm Beach County as a backup, or make alternative plans for the future? The latter would seem more prudent. Yes, Mayor Muoio, you have more to be concerned about than the extension of SR 7.

Patricia Abbott, Royal Palm Beach