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Miami hopes nets will trap trash that’s littering Biscayne Bay

Storm drains are allowing garbage from the street to soil South Florida’s waterways

Are nets the answer to keeping trash out of Biscayne Bay?
Are nets the answer to keeping trash out of Biscayne Bay?

MIAMI – Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood was recently deemed a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. So why are the streets inundated with trash?

Christine Rupp, director of the Dade Heritage Trust, is working with the nonprofit Healthy Little Havana to clean up these streets up and preserve the historic neighborhood.

“There’s trash all over the streets here,” Rupp said. “Little Havana has just become a dumping ground for people. There’s very little enforcement here by the city.”

South Florida’s Biscayne Bay is at a dangerous tipping point where if we don’t urgently address all the land-based pollution that’s being dumped into it, we could lose the fragile seagrass system that gives the bay life. One of the pieces to solving this puzzle is upgrading the stormwater system across Miami-Dade County.

A short walk down one block in a neighborhood like Little Havana shows you just how bad the littering problem is. Almost all of the storm drains are clogged with trash.

“Some have grates to prevent that debris from going in, most do not,” Rupp said. “They don’t understand that this goes right into the bay.”

[RELATED: Our litter on land is strangling Miami’s waterways]

Little Havana may be over 4 miles from Biscayne Bay, but you can see its environmental footprint every time it rains, when all that street trash gets swept up into the stormwater system that then dumps it into the bay.

And it doesn’t all come from Little Havana. From Edgewater to Morningside, the scene is heartbreaking.

Morningside resident Kathryn Mikesell regularly swims the bay with her friends and says that, over the past seven years, the amount of trash she’s seen flowing out of the outfall is overwhelming.

“You’re not swimming over the floor of the bay, you’re swimming over mounds of trash,” she said. “You are literally stroke for stroke swimming over a rainbow of cans. It’s unbelievable.”

After a heavy rain, they don’t even swim anymore. Instead, they pick up trash.

“If we don’t pick it up, it just gets dispersed throughout the bay,” Mikesell said. “Waste management doesn’t come and clean the cans from the bay, the only people to do it are us.”

The tidal wave of trash entering Biscayne Bay has gotten so bad that the City of Miami has contracted a company to install netting to trap the mounds and mounds of litter before it enters the water.

On March 23, contractors measured the outfall for netting that will be installed in August.

“It seems like such an obvious solution,” Mikesell said. “If we can capture this trash in a net before it gets to the bay, it solves the problem.”

[RELATED: ‘We have to do better’: Litter is killing beloved Biscayne Bay]

It may help at Morningside, but there are 480 outfalls that dump into Biscayne Bay in the City of Miami alone. This is a pilot program that, if successful, will be replicated at other outfalls throughout the city.

“We’re looking for any new ideas that keep garbage out of the bay,” said District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell.

The city is also investing 270,000 to install 1,000 curb inlet screens at storm drains or catch basins in downtown Miami. It was last summer’s fish kill that kicked the program into high gear.

“We had already started the pilot project with 20 infalls that we’re now expanding to 1,000,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “I think seeing something this dramatic allows us to be able to act faster.”

There are 28,000 storm drains in the City of Miami. All these solutions move the needle forward.

But the only way to truly solve the problem is to wake everybody up. The constant littering happening all over Miami-Dade county has to stop.

“Getting residents to care, I think, has to start with educating them about what happens when this trash leaves their street,” Rupp said. “It’s not good for them, it’s not good for the neighborhood, and it certainly isn’t good for Biscayne Bay.”

Our storm drains need major help, but it’s up to each municipality to upgrade them. Miami-Dade County has no jurisdiction. North Bay Village, for example, just initiated its own stormwater master plan, making it a top priority to reduce and eliminate trash from its storm drains.

The county is urging all Miami-Dade cities to do the same.

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About the Author:

Louis Aguirre returned home to Miami and Local 10 in September 2017.