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State still lets Central Florida's sludge foul Everglades, critics say

Kevin Spear
Sentinel Staff Writer
June 29, 2009

The foul waters of Lake Okeechobee, the failing health of the Everglades and even sick dolphins along the South Florida coast might seem like troubles so distant they could hardly be the Orlando area's responsibility.

Yet a Florida law — which environmentalists say is being thwarted by state officials — says otherwise, banning a decades-old practice set in motion when a toilet is flushed or a kitchen sink is drained in Central Florida.

Treatment of that watery waste produces sludge, which local sewage utilities at least partly disinfect and dispose of as fertilizer. A lot of that fertilizer winds up on cattle ranches and citrus groves south of Orlando, where rain runoff and flooding can release chemicals that poison the wetlands and waterways from here to Florida Bay.

The Florida Legislature passed a law two years ago that environmental activists took as a victory that calls for an end to spreading of sludge within a vast area that drains into Osceola County's large lakes and then south to the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the coastal estuaries of South Florida.

'Wreaking havoc'?

Now those environmentalists are accusing state officials of sidestepping the law, even as the Everglades watershed gets sicker by the day.

"There's a continued buildup of a pollutant that's wreaking havoc with the ecosystem," said Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida's policy director in Tallahassee. "It's going to be extremely expensive to clean up."

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