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October Water News

DROWNING IN HUMAN WASTE – WHAT’S TO BE DONE? October 17th, 6:30pm Emerson Center, 1590 27th Avenue, Vero Beach

With 900 new residents moving into Florida every day, disposal of human waste is a growing problem throughout our State.    Water quality testing has shown human waste to be a primary source of pollution in our waters.   Two experts will speak on different ways of improving the human waste disposal problem.

Vincent Burke, Director of Indian River County Utilities, will explain the County’s Comprehensive Plan to expand the municipal sewage treatment system including: 

  • County laws regulating sewer for new development

  • The neighborhood prioritization process for connection to sewer

  • Projected costs, grants, challenges and time frames to execute the Plan

  • Areas not included in current planning for municipal sewage

Roxanne Groover, Executive Director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association, will present information regarding nitrogen-reducing technologies that treat human waste on site rather than transporting the waste to municipal sewer treatment facilities.  Some of these technologies have been in use in other areas for years and have proven reliable.  Three nitrogen reducing septic systems will be available for viewing at 6:30, prior to the speakers.  

Neither traditional sewage treatment or nitrogen reducing septic systems address another important human waste issue.  The sludge remaining after sewage treatment and in septic tanks (biosolids) has a concentration of toxins and nutrients.  Biosolids land application was allowed in our county until recently when the County Commission passed a moratorium banning the practice. See the article below regarding the antibiotic resistance in dolphins for more information on this problem.  

The Clean Water Coalition is a volunteer, non-profit organization whose mission is to restore the waters of Indian River County.   It currently partners with over 550 businesses and local organizations who share this mission.  


 Indian River Lagoon Research on Dolphins

A Strong Case for New Technology for Wastewater Treatment

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges in the world today since many common bacterial infections are developing resistance to the drugs once used to treat them, and new antibiotics aren't being developed fast enough to combat the problem. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die.

Once primarily confined to health care settings, these resistant strains of bacteria are now commonly found in other places, especially marine environments. To date, few studies have looked at long-term trends in antibiotic resistance in pathogens isolated from wildlife populations.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in collaboration with Georgia Aquarium, the Medical University of South Carolina and Colorado State University, conducted a unique, long-term study (2003 to 2015) of antibiotic resistance among pathogens isolated from bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon. This lagoon has a large coastal human population and significant environmental impacts.

Overtime, these researchers have found an increase in antibiotic resistance in the Indian River Lagoon dolphins over time. Several of the organisms isolated from these animals are important human pathogens. Bottlenose dolphins are a valuable sentinel species in helping us understand how this affects human and environmental health.  “That could put people who eat fish from the lagoon and even those who simply come in contact with the water at greater risk because those bacterial infections could be harder to treat” said Adam Schaefer of FAU Harbor Branch.

Probable sources of the antibiotics in the Indian River Lagoon: 

  • Agricultural Waste – Antibiotics used to treat pets and farm animals enter the surface and groundwaters from their urine.

  • Wastewater Treatment Plants/Septic Systems Reuse Water – Wastewater treatment plant and septic tanks are not designed to remove the pharmaceuticals that pass into the wastewater and is then used as irrigation water.  

  • Biosolids - A particularly challenging problem across Florida is sewage sludge that is pumped out of septic tanks and is the residual of municipal sewage treatment plants.  The sludge can contain pharmaceuticals, hormones, pathogens, bacteria, viruses, heavy metals and other toxins.  This concentrated human waste is expensive to dispose of in lined landfills so the waste management industry is increasingly using it as cheap fertilizer.  It has been spread wet over pastures and pelletized to be used on crops.  There is tremendous concern about the effects on our food system, potable water resources and the resulting toxic algae blooms that have been tied to sludge land disposal.

Advanced technologies do exist that can remove pharmaceuticals and other toxins from the waste stream.  At this time, none exist in the State of Florida.  The CWC is asking our Legislators and the Governor to fund pilot projects which are closed systems and would eliminate nutrients, dangerous pathogens and antibiotics from entering the environment.


Governor DeSantis’ Blue Green Algae Task Force

First Report to Legislature

Governor DeSantis organized theBlue Green Algae Task Force to devise a scientific approach to the problem of toxic Blue Green Algae Blooms proliferating in Florida.  So far, they have met 6 times and have created an initial report of recommendations for the Legislature.  You may read the report by clicking here.

This is not the final report from the Task Force.  Members expect to address other nutrient issues including re-water irrigation water, sewer sludge (biosolids), fertilizers in urban landscapes and the use of herbicides at future meetings.


City of Sebastian Annexation Update

The Sebastian City Council voted unanimously in favor of annexing over 1,100 acres of Graves Brothers property located south of State Road 510.  They also moved forward with the land use amendment that allows 3699 new homes, along with substantial commercial and industrial development rights on agricultural land.

Reasons for concern:

  • Sufficient areas of conservation/buffer have not been included to protect the South Prong of the Sebastian River which flows into the Indian River Lagoon.

  • The area lies outside of the county’s urban services area and has not been included in planning or budgeting for sewer expansion. Currently, there is no formal arrangement to provide sanitary sewer services.

The County has filed for a conflict resolution regarding the annexation and this requires the County and City to meet and discuss differences. The first meeting will be held in the County Administration Building B, Room B1-501 Complex on Oct. 31st at 1pm.    It is a public meeting and citizens are encouraged to attend.

Pelican Island Audubon Society, as a property owner in Sebastian, is also challenging the annexation.  There is evidence that State law and City ordinances were violated during the annexation process.  The Clean Water Coalition and partner organizations, Friends of Sebastian River and the Indian River Neighborhood Association have voiced concerns over the process and potential impact on the eco-system of our area.


Well Plugging Program Available

The drinking water in Florida originates from underground aquifers.  The limestone rock stores fresh water and is replenished by percolating rain.  There are approximately 12,000 public water supply wells in Florida along with thousands of private wells.

According to the FDEP, Florida’s current fresh water supply will be unable to meet the needs of Florida’s future population growth. To avoid running out of fresh water, resource managers therefore urge both conservation efforts and alternative water supply sources to augment traditional groundwater supply sources.  Alternative water supply sources include reclaimed wastewater, desalination and surface water.

An important part of water conservation is the abandonment of old artesian wells.  An artesian well (also known as a free-flowing well) is a well that has been drilled into an aquifer in a location where the underground pressure is great enough for the water to rise, in some cases, without a pump. Old free-flowing wells typically tap a deeper portion of the aquifer that may be susceptible to increased salinity. As a well ages, deterioration of the well casing occurs, which can allow low quality, saline water to rise into fresher zones of the aquifer used for drinking water supplies. Proper plugging of these wells helps to prevent contamination of our water supply and the waste of millions of gallons of water per day.

The St. John’s Water Management District and the Indian River Soil and Water Conservation District are now offering an artesian well abandonment program for any citizen in Indian River County on a first come, first serve basis, or for high priority needs.   This program is not only for agricultural water users.  For more information click here.


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