Sarasota County Facing Lawsuit After Environmental Groups Claim Faulty Systems Are Polluting Suncoast Waterways

Updated: Apr. 24, 2019 at 8:39 PM EDT
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SARASOTA (WWSB) - Three environmental groups are suing Sarasota County for what they call ‘bad water quality'.

SunCoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation filed a suit Monday in the U.S. District Court in Tampa. The groups claim a faulty storm sewer system is polluting our waters and violating the Clean Water Act of Florida.

With the amazing beach weather we’ve been having lately, it’s easy to forget how bad conditions were just a few months ago. These groups say although they know the county did not cause the red tide, they claim there’s proof that they didn’t help get rid of it. Now, people are actively trying to figure out why it lingered here for so long.

“A lot of it comes from run off. I mean, I’m not the professional there, but I know that that has done a lot of damage… and just think of all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been lost in business and revenue,” Doug Ricciardi, a fishing captain in Sarasota, says.

Environmental groups now saying one of the significant pollutants is coming from the county’s sewer system – specifically from their Bee Ridge Facility – where millions of gallons of wastewater were dumped into the gulf.

“We realize that it’s a complex system and that there’s a lot of causes for water pollution, but it’s the basic job of county and local government to protect humans from raw sewage and protect the environment from discharges into our creeks and our water systems that end up in the bay,” Environmental Lawyer, Justin Bloom, who is the founder of Suncoast Water Keepers, explained.

In the lawsuit, the groups claim that over the course of many years, Sarasota County has failed to maintain its sewage system. It says the infrastructure is aging and gets inundated very quickly, so not only is raw sewage spilling, but storm water as well, has been dumping into our waterways - way more often than it should.

The county points out that the treated water meets all the requirements through the state agency, but released a statement to us saying: “Sarasota County is aware of the civil litigation related to reclaimed water storage at the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility. We are committed to improving our utilities infrastructure as water quality is a top priority for the county.”

“Our bay and our coastal waterways are the lifeline of our community. It’s the foundation for our quality of life, and I think that the county gets that and they’re now committed to doing the right thing,” Bloom expressed.

These groups say they are working with Sarasota County now, and they’ll hopefully come to an agreement to get them to comply with the Clean Water Act - without having to go through a long litigation process.

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