Miami-Dade's Storm Drains
are Breeding Mosquitoes

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Breaking News - Possible West Nile Virus Cure

Reported on July 10, 2006:   Physician boasts 86 percent success rate treating mosquito-borne illness.


In the summer of 2003, then Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, announced the beginning of "the most aggressive flood mitigation program in the history of Miami-Dade County" born from "an unprecedented partnership between the County, the State and the Federal government." Although I'm certain this program was crafted from only the best of intentions—aiming to reduce future flood damage and cleanse our waters following Best Management Practices from The Clean Water Act—unfortunately it forgot long-standing public health laws. Internally, the county has labeled this as DERM's DORM Program. DERM is the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management and DORM is its Division of Recovery and Mitigation.

Since then, about 3000 new storm drains were installed in much of the 24 square miles bounded by the Palmetto Expressway, Tamiami Trail, Southwest 137th Avenue and Sunset Drive. Unfortunately most of the catch basins in these storm drains permanently hold standing water that breeds mosquitoes which can spread diseases. (A 15 minute walk around a block or two in either my neighborhood or nearby neighborhoods will find a dozen or so catch basins with stagnant, standing water, likely to be breeding mosquitoes.) Both Florida statutes and Miami-Dade County ordinances define "the creation, maintenance, or causing of any condition capable of breeding ... mosquitoes" as an illegal sanitary nuisance. The sanitary nuisance laws exist to protect the public from life-threatening diseases and illnesses. While these laws are rarely discussed, they are paramount to public safety and should be strictly enforced. They're not being enforced in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

(Although Mayor Penelas was quoted as saying the program budget was $1 billion, I believe the budget for these 3000 storm drains was approximately $70 million—but I'm not sure.)

What I've learned

Starting in October 2003, I've tried to work with the County to have the problem resolved, and recently tried to get the Florida Department of Health to help. I've made almost no progress, but have learned some disturbing things:

Why isn't the law being enforced?

How can the Florida Department of Health and its branch, the Miami-Dade County Health Department, ignore this obvious public health threat considering their mission is to "promote and protect the health of our community through prevention and preparedness today, for a healthier tomorrow?" Their own fact sheet says, "the best way to prevent infection from ... viruses that you can get from mosquitoes is to avoid mosquitoes' bites and reduce their population around your home" and "to reduce the mosquito population around your home, get rid of all standing water...." So we now have tens of thousands of Miami-Dade homes surrounded by standing water in most of these new storm drains, and the Health Department sees no reason to interfere. Why aren't alarm bells ringing when Miami-Dade's Director of Public Works reports that a one-time sample of 202 of these storm drains in December 2004 found 43% to be breeding mosquitoes? What stronger evidence is needed to know that these storm drains are designed, installed or maintained in such a way that they pose a threat to public health? It is disingenuous for the Health Department to take the position that it is dangerous for individual citizens to allow standing water on their private property, while it is safe for government agencies to allow standing water on public property. The mosquitoes don't know the difference.

After a year of letters, email messages and phone calls to the Florida Department of Health asking that the law be enforced, on December 15, 2005 they wrote to Miami-Dade County saying only that, "abatement of the problems associated with mosquito breeding in storm drains remains a high priority for the Department of Health". If it's such a high priority, why won't they send their employees to investigate? If it's such a high priority, why do they refuse to enforce the law?

The problem is getting worse

On November 2, 2004, Miami-Dade voters passed the Building Better Communities Bond Program including a $378 million bond issue to construct and improve water, sewer and flood control systems. Of this $378 million, $117 million is allocated for similar, mosquito-breeding storm drains. It is imperative that we change our public policy now to require that all drainage programs focus on public health and safety before property protection and water quality. No more storm drains should be installed with the current, potentially deadly design. Construction crews currently installing storm drains with the mosquito-breeding design should be stopped now. Existing storm drains that breed mosquitoes must be eliminated or modified so they comply with public health laws.

Getting help from the Mayor

On February 4, 2005, I wrote to recently-elected Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez asking for help. Thanks to the Mayor's office:

Asking for help from other agencies

What you can do to help

  1. First, protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes—obviously Miami-Dade County and the State of Florida aren't concerned enough to enforce their own laws.
  2. Spread the word—tell your friends and neighbors to get involved.
  3. Whenever you are aware of mosquitoes, call the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Division at 305-592-1186. Ask for an inspector to come to your property and eliminate the mosquito breeding conditions, including the problems in your catch basins. They usually come out the next day. They can provide a temporary solution.
  4. If you have catch basins near your home that permanently hold standing water (a properly designed storm drain should be dry 72 hours after the last rain) call the Miami-Dade Public Works Water Management Division at 305-592-3115 to report a clogged storm drain filled with stagnant water. Ask that they clean the storm drain. They can schedule a crew to clean the drain with a large vacuum truck.
  5. If you have catch basins near your home that permanently hold standing water, call the Miami-Dade County Health Department (this is a state agency, a branch of the Florida Department of Health) at 305-623-3574 to register a sanitary nuisance complaint. They have a duty to enforce state and county laws which prohibit conditions that allow mosquitoes to breed. They don't want to help; they'll tell you to call the county's Mosquito Control Division because it's not their problem. Remind them the law says they have a duty to investigate and insist that they open a formal sanitary nuisance investigation. If they continue to refuse to take your complaint, then call the Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr. Ana M. Viamonte Ros, at 1-877-798-2772 x4321 and ask her to get involved and help.
  6. Call Mayor Carlos Alvarez at 305-375-5071 and ask him to help. Remind him that these storm drains are violating county and state public health laws that exist to protect us. Tell him they need to be fixed before we have a West Nile Virus epidemic like Chicago had in 2002 that killed 41 people.
  7. Visit the CDC's West Nile Virus web site to learn more about the importance of mosquito protection.
  8. If you have horses, get them vaccinated now. Unfortunately there are no vaccines available for humans, but they are available for horses. To learn how you can best protect your horses, read the USDA's Animal Disease Alert.

Articles Discussing the Problem

The March/April 2002 issue of Stormwater, the Journal for Surface Water Quality Professionals, has two articles on this subject:

  1. The Dark Side of Stormwater Runoff Management: Disease Vectors Associated with Structural BMPs including the sidebar Designing and Building a Better BMP and
  2. Stormwater, BMPs and Vectors: The Impact of New BMP Construction on Public Health Agencies including the two sidebars Vector-Control Costs at a Glance and Benefiting From Local Public Agencies.

Marco E. Metzger, Vector-Borne Disease Section, California Department of Health Services warns against mosquitoes breeding in storm drains in Managing Mosquitoes in Stormwater Treatment Devices.

The state of Virginia, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Stormwater Management Program warns against the problem in its Technical Bulletin No. 8, VECTOR CONTROL Mosquitoes & Stormwater Management.

Dr. Merilee Karr writes about the problem in Mosquitoes Call Stormdrains "Home" from the Spring 2004 issue of Northwest Public Health.

Marco E. Metzger provides a list of Stormwater-Related References.

This is a national problem

Miami-Dade is not alone. The California Studies reported that of 72 agencies across the country that completed their questionnaire, 86% reported mosquito breeding in drainage systems. Congress has heard testimony on the problem. In 2002, there were 634 cases of West Nile Virus in Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) resulting in 41 human deaths.

United States Federal Government

On October 10, 2002, the United States Congress Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee heard testimony on this problem:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its recommendations concerning the problem:

West Nile Cases

2005 Weekly West Nile Virus Maps

CDC ArboNET presents current and historical information on confirmed West Nile Virus cases by County throughout the United States. The data are reported separately each year for Birds, Humans, Mosquitoes, Sentinel animals (usually chickens) and Veterinary (usually horses) cases. For example, there were 21 Human cases in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 2004.

States with the highest numbers of West Nile Virus human deaths, by year
2005 California - 19 human deaths - 880 human cases
2004 California - 28 human deaths - 779 human cases
2003 Colorado - 63 human deaths - 2947 human cases
2002 Illinois - 66 human deaths - 884 human cases

California Studies

The California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, Division of Environmental Analysis has recently completed a comprehensive, multi-year study in cooperation with other public agencies that included concerns about mosquitoes breeding in storm drains. Section 1.8 of the BMP Retrofit Pilot Program Final Report 2.45 Mb and the documents in its Appendix E: Vector Monitoring and Abatement focus on mosquitoes breeding in storm drains. All 13 documents in its Appendix E are listed below:

  1. Final Vector Report 98 kb
  2. Vector Control Background Monitoring Plan (Mosquitoes and Midges) for CalTrans BMP Retrofit Pilot Project Sites Caltrans District 7 105 kb
  3. Vector Control Background Monitoring Plan (Mosquitoes and Midges) for CalTrans BMP Retrofit Pilot Project Sites Caltrans District 11 96 kb
  4. Monitoring Program for Pathogen-Transmitting and Nuisance Adult Diptera Associated with the Stormwater BMP Retrofit Pilot Program in Caltrans District 7 and District 11 FINAL REPORT 1.00 Mb
  5. BMP Mosquito Production Study Plan 56 kb
  6. An Initial Assessment of Vector Production in Structural Best Management Practices in Southern California 164 kb
  7. A Preliminary Assessment of Design Criteria for Vector Prevention in Structural Best Management Practices in Southern California 932 kb
  8. Memorandum: Standing Water in Structural Best Management Practices for Stormwater Runoff 17 kb
  9. A Preliminary Assessment of Vectors Associated with Stormwater Management Structures in the United States. A Nationwide Vector Control Perspective 5.18 Mb
  10. A Preliminary Assessment of Vectors Associated with Stormwater Management Structures in the United States. *Addendum 5.73 Mb
  11. An Initial Assessment of Vector Production in Structural Best Management Practices in Southern California *Addendum 204 kb
  12. A Three-Year Assessment of Vector Production in Structural Best Management Practices in Southern California 195 kb
  13. Caltrans BMP Retrofit Pilot Program District 7, Los Angeles; District 11, San Diego Vector Service Agreements 3.23 Mb

The Law

Miami-Dade County Law - Chapter 26A of the Code of Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Florida State Law - Chapter 386 of the Florida Statutes.

On March 17, 2005 the Florida Department of Health provided this Legal Memorandum explaining their reasons for not enforcing the law.

On March 31, 2005, Dr. John Agwunobi, Florida's then Secretary of Health, speaking for Governor Jeb Bush, wrote this letter, referencing the above Legal Memorandum, ignoring our request to overrule the Department of Health's decision to not enforce the law.

Google Searches

Mosquitoes breeding in storm drains

The Clean Water Act and storm water flood mitigation

Recent Press

May 5, 2005 - Mosquito Magnets - WSVN Channel 7

May 8, 2005 - Alvarez focused on health concern - Miami Herald

May 16, 2005 - Perspectives on Storm Drains and Mosquitoes - Miami Herald

June 16, 2005 - Mosquitoes swamp communities - Miami Herald - West Kendall Neighbors

February 20 and 22, 2006 - Action Line articles plus original two messages sent to Action Line - Miami Herald


Request For More Information

Please notify of any additional references to mosquitoes breeding in storm drains, especially regarding The Clean Water Act and FEMA Flood Mitigation Programs, or if you find any broken links or errors on this web page.