Researchers try to figure out what’s polluting Parkview Canal as residents grow frustrated

It’s a beautiful day on Miami Beach’s Parkview Island, but taking a closer look at the water, it’s evident there is something wrong.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – It’s a beautiful day on Miami Beach’s Parkview Island, but taking a closer look at the water, it’s evident there is something wrong.

Omar Jimenez moved to Parkview Island in 2016 to be closer to the water.

Now he doesn’t want to get near it.

“It’s all green all the time, it stinks,” he said. “I definitely fear this water. I already have gotten sick from this water.”

The quality of the canal was already degrading by 2019, but things really got bad in March of 2020 when a fractured sewer main resulted in almost 600,000 gallons of raw sewage spilling into the bay in North Beach, impacting the Parkview Canal.

“The water was super contaminated,” Jimenez said.

But even long after the break, the water quality there did not improve, forcing the city to close its new kayak launch and maintain its no-contact advisory.

Something else was polluting the water, and it’s still happening.

“It’s been ongoing, this issue, for over three years,” Jimenez said, adding, “and we’re fed up.”

Jimenez enlisted fellow Parkview residents to get to the bottom of the issue and save their once scenic and tropical backyard.

“We used to see spotted rays and dolphins all the time and I can’t remember last time I saw a dolphin near here,” said Parkview resident Tanya Katzoff Bhatt.

At first the city blamed the problem on pet waste that hadn’t been picked up, but residents weren’t buying it.

“This notion that it’s all dog poop, all the time, it’s just Parkview Island, is a bunch of dog poop,” said Katzoff Bhatt. “It’s absolute nonsense.”

Enter Surfrider Foundation, which, since October of 2021, has been testing the waters of Parkview Island once a week, with devastating results.

Twenty-four thousand, and that’s the highest we can test,” said Surfrider Blue Water Task Force Lab Director Christie LeMahieu. “That’s off the charts.”

A safe reading is anything below 70 colony forming enetrococci units per 100 milliliters of water. Parkview’s numbers were consistently in the thousands.

“It’s nasty. I mean, it’s bad,” LeMahieu said. “There’s sewage in it.”

But the city found no evidence of a chronic sewer breach that could be causing this. so in August the city hired a University of Miami water quality expert to try and solve the mystery.

Dr. Helena Solo-Gabriele, who is a Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Miami, said she has sampled hundreds of areas.

Nine hotspots were identified in the final report, the outfalls of the city’s stormwater system that all dumped into the Parkview canal. That’s untreated stormwater from an area of 329,000 square meters from 71st to 77th street, east to Collins Avenue, and washing into the canal.

“So you have a big area of just flush water from the storm washing the streets that goes into a small canal and accumulates to very high levels,” said Solo-Gabrielle. “Anything that’s on the streets, ends up in that in the canal.”

Trash, bird droppings, animal waste, even human waste from homeless people.

The report also doesn’t rule out that the beach’s 80-year-old sewer lines might be leaking into groundwater flowing into the system.

“The sanitary sewer system has to constantly be upgraded and improved to make sure that it’s sturdy enough to handle the sewage just coming through it without leaks,” said Solo-Gabrielle.

Miami Beach is under the gun to fix the problem. Neighboring North Bay Village discussed the issue at last week’s commission meeting.

“We see that data. It’s very troublesome, especially when you have the outlets coming out right here into our shared bay,” said North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham.

Miami Beach has begun the triage by increasing the frequency of street sweeping and cleaning out catch basins to remove contaminated sediments.

A $10 million grant will now help the city design a new stormwater system and small infrastructure upgrades have already started, but the major ones aren’t going to happen overnight.

“I think it’s going to be a number of years,” said Miami Beach Chief Resiliency Officer Amy Knowles. “We’re going to have to monitor this very carefully over time, and see how these changes impact the canal.”

It will be a heavy lift.

“We’re talking about a lot of money,” said Christina Ortega, Miami Beach Engineer with the Public Works Department. “If we talk about order of magnitude, we’re talking about a $100 million project.”

Parkview residents say they’re running out of time.

“We need this to be sped up,” said Jimenez. “We need the city to declare an emergency in this neighborhood so that we can get funds flowing here faster.”

The City of Miami Beach has the entire University of Miami report up on its website and is encouraging public comments so they can present a final action plan to the city commission in March.

That page can be found by clicking here.

About the Author:

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