ADDRESSING STORMWATER POLLUTION
Judy Orcutt, Clean Water Coalition of IRC
Jean Catchpole, Indian River Neighborhood Association
Stormwater runoff is a major transporter of pollution to our water bodies. The sources of the pollution in stormwater come from US. They are the substances that drain off our residences. They include chemicals that run off the hard surfaces of roads and parking lots. Some of the pollution enters the soil and is transported by groundwater to ditches and canals, like septic tank effluent, which can contain pharmaceuticals and other toxins. Our stormwater drainage system has made it possible for people to live in Indian River County without fear of flooding. But this same efficient system carries pollution to the Lagoon and the ocean. The best solution to our stormwater problem is to stop the pollution at the source! To reduce the amounts of chemicals, trash, motor oil and pet waste that is allowed to enter drainage systems. Local governments are working to stop pollution at the source by limiting the types and times that fertilizer may be applied. City and County utilities have plans in place to connect septic systems to sewer. Street sweeping is used effectively to pick up debris coming off roads and bridges. All of these initiatives reduce stormwater pollution. Large and costly projects have been completed by Indian River County to remove nutrient pollution from canal waters. Two of these projects treat water in the Main Relief Canal: Egret Marsh and PC Main Screening System. The South Relief Canal is treated by Osprey Marsh/ Osprey Acres and a new project is underway for the North Relief Canal. In addition, building regulations require new subdivisions to hold runoff on site in stormwater retention areas.
The City of Vero Beach is the oldest part of Indian River County with infrastructure installed 50 years ago using old technology and outdated building codes. A high percentage of the City is impervious. Heavy rains reveal the inadequacy of the stormwater system. Occasionally, the City’s beaches are closed following rain due to a high enteric bacteria count in the surf. The most likely source is septic effluent in ground water draining through outfall pipes into the ocean.
The majority of downtown Vero Beach drains into the Main Relief Canal without any stormwater treatment. Funding for the City’s stormwater improvement projects are allocated from the General Budget. Unfortunately, those funds are often appropriated for unplanned emergencies. Mainly repairs and maintenance of the stormwater system are allocated in the City’s current 5-year Capital Improvement Budget. Reduction of stormwater pollution will depend on new projects to filter and treat runoff before it reaches the Lagoon. No doubt these projects will be costly but, by having a dedicated source of funds, the City will be eligible for cost-share matching grants from State agencies to leverage stormwater dollars. As proposed by the consultant, the Stormwater Utility could generate approximately $1 million/year to be spent on water quality improvement projects. For the average residential property, the fee is estimated to be about $5/month – the cost of a fast food meal! Our economy and quality of life depends on clean water. Please support the establishment of a Stormwater Utility in Vero Beach.