High-tech screens are new weapon against litter in South Florida waterways

Hallandale Beach getting first set and they’re coming to Miami, too

After months of planning, a new weapon is in place in the ongoing fight to stop street litter from getting into South Florida waterways — one that will soon also be coming to Miami.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It’s a big moment for the city of Hallandale Beach.

After months of planning, a new weapon is in place in the ongoing fight to stop street litter from getting into South Florida waterways — one that will soon also be coming to Miami.

The first of a set of high-tech screens are being installed at open curb inlets along the 800 block of Parkview Drive in Hallandale.

“It’s taken a while to get this project actually rolling but to see it’s going right now, I am extremely excited,” said Charles Casimir, the city’s assistant utilities director. “We have so much debris going into the intracoastal and into our waterways, so we’re trying to protect that.”

The screens are designed to trap the street litter before it enters the stormwater system, where it eventually flushes out into waterways and the intracoastal. It is a big win for the environment.

Emilio Lopez, the CEO and co-founder of SOP Technologies, developed the filters to not only reduce pollution in the stormwater system but to also allow stormwater to flow freely and prevent street flooding.

“What we patented is the upper flow of water through the screen, so the water comes down and up,” he explained. “This design has a much greater opening for water flow.”

They’re also designed to stop deadly organics from getting through. These leaves and lawn clippings may look harmless, but they’re actually ticking time bombs.

“Water is taking these leaves into the storm drain system,” Lopez said. “Eventually this leads to Biscayne Bay, and as you know, when this decomposes this becomes nutrients.”

Phosphorus and nitrogen are deadly nutrients that feed algae growth in our bay and waterways and kill the seagrass.

“We need to prevent the organics from actually getting into the waters ... which is the majority of what we capture entering the storm drains,” Lopez said.

The screens already have a proven track record. They were installed along Duval Street in Key West in 2016. Forty were installed in South Miami in 2018. Aventura installed them citywide in 2019.

Soon they’ll also be installed in the city of Miami — 1,000 of them have already been ordered.

“It’s extremely important,” said Alan Dodd, Miami’s former chief resilience officer. “We have 28,000 catch basins in the city and every single one of them is contributing to the problem by allowing nutrients and debris to get into Biscayne Bay.”

Our cameras captured when the open inlets along Southwest 16th Street and 27th Avenue were being measured for the custom screens. It will take 4-6 weeks to manufacture them. There are 200 screens for each of Miami’s five districts. The first batch is to be installed in District 2: downtown Miami and the Biscayne Bay corridor.

“We have a lot of areas in the city where we know they’re hotspots because of the amount of debris that gets clogged in the system,” Dodd said. “We have to keep coming and cleaning it multiple times a year. So that’s where we’re putting the grates.”

And now public works can actually track the trashiest storm drains. Each new screen comes with a QR code that residents can scan with their smartphone and upload pictures to report when clogged screens need to be cleaned.

“Is there an area of the city that we notice a lot of trash and debris?” Lopez said. “And if that’s the case then maybe we need to have other methods to address the problem at the root.”

More garbage cans may be needed, or “no littering” signage, tools to attack the street trash.

“It’s over 100 pounds per storm drain per year that we’re preventing from getting into the storm drain system,” Lopez said.

Which gives the bay a fighting chance to heal.

“I’m born and raised in South Florida. We don’t want to see pollution in our oceans and waterways,” said Steven Wechsler of VolunteerCleanup.Org. “This is great we’re finally starting to take measures to reduce the pollution and reduce the flooding that’s been occurring here for many years.”

It’s costing the city of Miami $270,000 to install 1,000 screens, but the city has over 28,000 storm drains, so that’s only 3.5% of them. Miami-Dade has over 90,000 storm drains countywide, which makes for an expensive proposition, all because people continue to litter

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.