January 5, 2014

BMPs and STAs

BMPs - Best Management Practices (mainly for agriculture).
STAs - Stormwater Treatment Areas.
These are two different concepts for keeping the ‘watery’ environment appropriately clean. To minimize AND  to clean up the pollution. Mainly water pollution which is mobile and travels, polluting everything in its way.  However, there is a world of difference between the two clean-water techniques discussed here.
While BMPs are mainly a PREVENTATIVE (upstream) measure.  Building and operating STAs amounts to an attempt to clean-up AFTER the “cat is out of the bag” , so to speak – the pollution is already streaming through the environment. Ideally, a functioning STA system should normally consist of a Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) and a constructed shallow wetland whose growing ecosystem absorbs and helps mineralize (immobilize and deposit) the excess nutrients.  While FEBs accumulate and release water in wet and dry periods, respectively, they address the water flow quantity aspect.  The wetland-based STAs actually improve water quality.
STA wetland removes polluting nutrients (P)

And what pollution are we talking about ?  In case of Florida Everglades it is primarily the excesses of nutrient PHOSPHORUS, because the pristine ecology of watery Everglades has historically been phosphorus limited. Man’s activities (farming and development) dump excessive phosphorus into the environment everywhere.  The general modern consensus is that ‘normal’ everglades water should not contain more than 10 ppb (parts per billion = micrograms/liter) of phosphorus in it – and that’s ‘very low’ !  That’s the way it used to be or should be – and we can have it that way only if we are VERY careful (practicing the BMPs) or if we CLEAN UP effectively (large land areas of STAs).
As usual, the combination of BOTH together is probably the best approach to achieving sustainable human presence in fragile ecosystems.
The good old wise saying tells us that –an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of medicine”.  No doubt that this applies, and particularly so, in the case of Everglades pollution.
We have to keep one additional very important aspect in mind – of course, the COSTS.
The costs of BMPs (limiting the pollution SOURCE) are paid by the ‘pollution originator’, usually the farm operator – depending on the levels of their subsidies from the government.
FEBs and STAs construction and operation are paid for mainly by the government – the taxpayer.

It is still dark in the Florida Capitol ...
The government(s) should not burn taxpayers’ money on clean-up that really needs to be the responsibility of those generating the nuisance. For the Everglades Agricultural Area this is even mandated in the Florida Constitution that stipulates that “polluters pay”. And so they should – and not only in the EAA ! While not “omnipotent”, the (preventative) BMPs and particularly their strict enforcement deserve much more attention. Increased enforcement of these is not so difficult – because currently there is virtually no enforcement. You would laugh at it if you knew the details. Despite the natural and expected farmers’ outcry about costs of BMPs, this needs to be done.
It is the “cost of running business” – just like any other.