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July Water News

Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) The Plan to Restore the Indian River Lagoon

Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are essential to living organisms and are the chief nutrients present in natural water bodies. Large amounts of these nutrients are also present in sewage, and drainage from fertilized land. Too much phosphorus and nitrogen cause algae growth which can block sunlight to sea grasses and choke fish by oxygen depletion. Excess nutrients in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) have resulted in algae blooms, disappearing seagrass beds, declining fish and bird populations, and harm to human health.

The Indian River Lagoon has been designated as impaired – no longer safe for recreation – swimming, boating or wildlife. The 1972 US Clean Water Act delegates the authority for pollution reduction to the State of Florida where Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the lead agency. Towards restoring the impaired Lagoon, the FDEP develops a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). This Plan allocates nutrient reductions to entities discharging into the Lagoon; these affected entities include Indian River County, Cities and Towns, Florida Department of Transportation (DOT), Water Improvement Districts, and others. The 2020 update of the Central IRL BMAP, expected to be completed by year end, requires each entity to design, engineer and permit nutrient reducing projects to meet their allocation.

Entities provide details of their projects to DEP on an annual basis. BMAP project details are published annually in theStatewide Annual Report on Total Maximum Daily Loads, Basin Management Action Plans, Minimum Flows or Minimum Water Levels, and Recovery or Prevention Strategies(STAR). Nutrient load reductions achieved from all completed projects are reported as a percentage of the total reductions required to restore the health of the IRL.

The updated BMAP is expected to drive local government efforts to restore water quality in Indian River County for the next five or more years. To be effective, the updated BMAP must include:

  • a compliance schedule including milestones for implementation and water quality improvement, and

  • an associated water quality monitoring component sufficient to evaluate whether reasonable progress in pollutant load reductions is being achieved over time.

In light of the above, and in keeping with CWC’s Mission, CWC is actively seeking to work with the County, Cities and FDEP in support of responsible development of the updated Central IRL BMAP towards “the protection and restoration of our waters through advocacy, education, conservation, and restoration; by working in collaboration with private and governmental entities.”

Jean Catchpole  Chairman of the IRNA Lagoon Committee and Advisor to CWC Board

A recent study by the Florida Institute of Technology reported that Bethel Creek would benefit from the one-way flushing of ocean water through pumps and a pipe connected to the Atlantic Ocean at the site of an old natural inlet near Bethel Creek House on A1A.   The ocean influx would dilute and push whatever pollutants are in the creek out into the larger Indian River Lagoon.  Has no one heard that “dilution is not the solution to pollution”?   Before we consider this very expensive engineering project, to be paid for by taxpayers, it seems prudent to ask why the owners of 286 parcels draining into the Bethel Creek area, obviously concerned with the condition of the creek, have not felt it important to convert their septic systems to the City’s step system which pipes the effluent to the City’s wastewater treatment plant.   Last year the City offered financial incentives and an attractive 10 year financing plan for the 513 property owners in the Bethel Creek and Live Oak basins to connect.  Only 227 did so… less than half.    We’ve heard that some use the excuse of “why bother, when the City is dumping raw sewage in the creek?”  This is in reference to the sewer pipe break that dumped an estimated 3 million gallons of sewage into the creek in November of 2017.   That is a spurious argument since, if you consider the amount of nitrogen contributed by those 286 unconverted systems in just a one year period….1,869 lbs,* it far exceeds the 800 lbs. of nitrogen contributed by the spill.   Nitrogen is the major contributor to the pollution in Bethel Creek and the Indian River Lagoon. Unfortunately, here on the barrier island we have a high water table and, if those septic systems are older ones, they were installed with only a six inch separation between the water table and the base of the drain field.  In heavy rains, septic effluent can enter the water table and run off into the lagoon.  You may think that the effluent is filtered as it goes through the soil, but the soil here on the barrier island is sand…very porous..meaning effluent goes through it at a high rate with little filtration.  You may also think pumping out your septic tank regularly is a preventative measure. The tank retains the solids but the liquid effluent (260 gallons/day/household) flows to the drainfield where it can enter the water table.    Each septic system contributes 5 to 9 pounds of nitrogen per year to our already impaired lagoon.  In addition, that effluent contains pharmaceuticals, cleaning chemicals, bacteria and viruses that also contribute to lagoon pollution.  We really need to eliminate all septic systems from the barrier island. Perhaps it is time for our City council to mandate their conversion. In the absence of such a mandate, please consider taking personal responsibility for your contribution to lagoon pollution and convert to the step system before we entertain such a drastic step as endorsing the expensive “flushing” project for Bethel Creek. *Nitrogen Calculations from ArcNLET Modeling Study completed by City of Vero Beach Sept 2018 (LINK)

 Marine Committee News – Keith Drewett, Chairman

Two Clean Water Coalition initiatives came to fruition in the last two weeks. The push to remove the backlog of derelict vessels was completed, including the vessel which has been aground and partially submerged in City waters just north of the Barber bridge for over two years. This was a County and FL FWCC project and the cost for the contractor to remove the vessels was totally reimbursed by FWCC. The first "Overboard Discharge" informational signs were installed at the Riverside Park and MacWilliams boat ramps.  Further signs will be placed at the City Marina and by CWC volunteers at private Marinas and Marine related businesses in the City.  Thanks to the City for their support for the signage project. Help the Lagoon! If you would like a sign to post in your place of business, please respond to this email and we will be in touch with you.

2020 Clean Waterways Act

CWC is highly appreciative of Senator  Debbie Mayfield’s successful efforts to pass Senate Bill 712, known as the Clean Waterways Act.  The Act advances:

  • Comprehensive efforts to reduce pollution of Florida waters and offset historical water pollution

  • State policy related to septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants, biosolids, stormwater infrastructure, and agriculture Best Management Practices.

As identified in the Florida Phoenix, Governor DeSantis described the new law as the most significant advance in decades toward reducing the water pollution plaguing Florida waterways. The  advocacy organization, 1000 Friends of Florida’s statement on SB 712 notes that they initially supported SB 712, as a vehicle for comprehensive reforms of state law to confront Florida’s water quality crisis. However, the Legislature weakened provisions, including relative to stormwater runoff from agricultural lands. Although, as passed, the Act includes positive steps to reduce pollution from septic tanks, wastewater treatment facilities and stormwater discharges, the Act fails to fix fundamental flaws with BMAPs including:

  • reliance on ineffective Best Management Practices for agricultural lands, which do not ensure necessary reductions in pollution from agricultural runoff;

  • failure to address land application of sewage sludge in environmentally sensitive areas.

The Sierra Club along with the Florida Springs Council and Waterkeepers Florida urged legislators “to make the bill more protective of water quality”, but says the adopted Act is the result of weakened language “to fit the needs of the state’s biggest polluters.” Dave Cullen, Sierra Club lobbyist said: “The bill fails to require polluters to reduce the damage they cause our waters enough to bring them back to health.  And what little it promises is dependent on future funding”. A Florida Department of Environmental Protection Bulletin professes the recently adopted State budget to be the “Largest Environmental Budget in Florida’s History” including Water Quality Improvement and Restoration funding at about $682 million with:

  • more than $417 million for Everglades Restoration;

  • about $265 million for Statewide water quality improvement and related projects for springs restoration, alternative water supply; and blue-green algae and red tide.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR), a research arm of the Florida Legislature, in its Annual Assessment of Florida’s Water Resources and Conservation Lands estimated the minimum cost to complete current and planned BMAP Projects (does not include Everglades Restoration) at over $2.9 Billion – far shy of the $260 million funded by the 2020 Florida legislature. CWC views the 2020 Clean Waterways Act as a foundation for more effective legislation in the 2021 session and beyond. We look forward to working with our State legislators to further our mission for clean water.

Is Glyphosate use safe for Florida’s Waterways?

Paul Fafeita, CWC President

One cannot turn on the television without seeing ads from law firms across the country getting million-dollar awards for their clients from the use of Monsanto’s weed control product Round Up.  The culprit in that product is the herbicide glyphosate. You would think that the verdicts in these lawsuits would lead our communities, water control districts and state agencies to halt the spraying of glyphosate (or other toxic herbicides) along the canals and waterways of our state. If it is harmful to human health, what is it doing to marine life, sea grasses and water quality?  Unfortunately, not enough testing has been done to determine the effects of glyphosate in aquatic systems. In 2015, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) reported test results which found herbicides in the south relief canal, which flows under U.S. 1 then into the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach. These residual herbicides may directly damage sea grass in the Lagoon.  In addition, as the dead plants decay, they release nitrogen and phosphorous into the water adding more nutrient pollution to the Lagoon. "All of the nutrients that that plant ever absorbed are then released back into the water as they decay, so it's a big pulse of pollution that can cause algae blooms when that rotting plant material decays in the water," said FGCU marine and ecological science professor James Douglass. This was a factor in the 2019 temporary stop of glyphosate usage by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission anywhere in state.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Last month, In June 2020, TC Palm reported a fish kill in a canal along State Road 60 west of Vero Beach.  Dr. Grant Gilmore attributed the fish kill to decline of dissolved oxygen in the warm water with high nutrient concentrations.  Within a week of this fish kill, local government agencies were seen in the area using helicopters to spray herbicides to kill unwanted vegetation. Waterways that feed into Blue Cypress Lake and Lake Garcia. Why???  Consider that in 2016 the total annual economic value of the Indian River Lagoon was estimated by East Central Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils at $7.6 billion with an expected 11.1 million annual visitors by 2025.  Is glyphosate use killing sea grasses and increasing nutrients in the Lagoon?  Is glyphosate a factor in killing our tourism-based economy? Our local governments, water management districts, and the state realize that our very valuable Indian River Lagoon and other waterways need to be saved and cherished. However, we collectively need to undertake a far more comprehensive effort to identify and mitigate all Lagoon pollution sources – including the use of glyphosate.

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