Posted August 3, 2016
Indian River Lagoon + Florida Politics, cont'd.
Indian River Lagoon -- State Picking our Poison
By Maureen Rupe
During the last month we’ve heard Governor Scott blaming huge Algae blooms on the Army Corp of Engineers; I assume because they haven’t built high enough walls on Lake Okeechobee, as they had to release water from the rain swollen lake contaminated by fertilizer. Governor Scot is also blaming septic tanks, as he’s outlined a program to encourage homeowners to change over to sewer.
Both programs are suspect enough, the first as just this year Scott and the Florida Legislature cancelled the purchase of Big Sugar land that would have allowed more water to be held in storage ponds instead of being release, or even that Representative Crisafulli pushed through a Water Bill that allows industry polluters to basically monitor themselves. A July 11, 2016 story in the Miami Herald titled “Sugar's decades-long hold over Everglades came with a price” and an opinion by Ron Little in the Jacksonville.com shows Big Sugar is lining the pockets of our legislature, the Governor, Attorney General Pam Bondi, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Alan Putnam.
Rick Scott’s Septic Tank Grant Program would be a bit more digestible if cities actually kept up their systems to avoid spills, instead of using the huge profits to subsidize their budgets spending the money on everything else besides their sewer system upkeep. And do you seriously think it would be “VOLUNTARY” program if they thought it would really make a difference?
I found an August 5, 2015 Florida Today story by Jim Waymer titled Overwhelmed Brevard sewers tax Indian River Lagoon talking about sewer systems and spills. According to the article “A 1990 state law put a stop to most of those discharges by 1996. But several cities are still allowed to discharge treated sewage when plant capacity is exceeded during storms, including plants in Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Rockledge, Melbourne, Barefoot Bay and Brevard County's South Beaches plant.”
The story went on to say “Utility officials say preventing rain-driven spills like those this past September would require impractical, expensive increases to sewer plant capacity for weather events that happen only once every decade or so.” But if this keeps happening so often, how can we justify spills of millions of gallons at a time, even once every 10 years if it happens for all the cities plus numerous systems ran by the county. There’s no excuse to force all residents into systems that can’t seriously handle any type of overflow.
According to the story just in 2015, Brevard County (including all the cities) had spills totaling 24,105,140 gallons of sewage, St. Lucie County had total spills of 1,222,000 gallons, Martin County spilt 220,100 gallons, Volusia County spilt 40,600 gallons, Indian River County spilt 38,112 gallons; Total sewage spilt 25,625,952 gallons. The story did say the “Estimates are based on initial reports provided to the State Warning at, which can differ from what's verified upon further investigation. Six spill reports did not include volume estimates.” Just in September – October of 2015, Indian Harbor Beach put 16 million gallons of raw sewage and rainwater into the lagoon, and Palm Bay spilt 5.7 million gallons of partially-treated sewage into the Turkey Creek then the lagoon. What is laughable is Jim Waymer’s story stated Utility officials said “…When sewage does reach the lagoon, they say, it dilutes quickly.” Who are they trying to kid?
What about “Sludge” -- the biosolid leftovers from sewer plants? In a May 20th Florida Today story by Jim Waymer titled Is sludge also sickening the lagoon? "But Gary Roderick sees the solid leftovers from sewage treatment as one of Indian River Lagoon’s most unheralded pollution problems. 'This is like a sleeping giant that’s causing a silent scream in the lagoon,' said Roderick, an environmental consultant from Martin County and former county and state environmental administrator. 'It’s the 5,000-pound gorilla that’s not saying anything right in the middle of the room.'” The story explained that every year, there are about 300,000 dry tons of biosolids that go out to lands around the state contributing 33 million pounds of nitrogen and 13 million pounds of phosphorus into all the state’s watersheds.
This Sludge or biosolid is left from every sewer plant after sewage is treated. Depending on the level of bacteria, metals and contaminants removed, it's called Class AA, Class A or Class B. The cleanest level of treated sludge is Class AA, but still contains nutrients and pathogens that can migrate to waterbodies and cause algae blooms. Brevard has just one AA plant in Titusville that produced 244.5 dry tons in 2013. The story said the city put the sludge on rural and cattle ranches and other rural lands from the Brevard’s northern border down to SR 520 all for free.
Titusville has another sewer plant which produced 213 dry tons of class B sludge in 2013, which the city spreads on 200 acres one mile west of Interstate 95, except when it rains where it’s buried in the county’s landfill. The plant also spread 44 tons of class B sludge in 2013 on 85 acres in Port St. John off Ranch Road. Palm Bay sewer treatment plants produced 1,875 dry tons of class B biosolids in 2013. Brevard had 244.5 dry tons in 2013, but the biggest producer of AA sludge is in Volusia County, which had 29,777 dry tons in 2013. Orange County only generated 32,900 dry tons of AA. Even septic tank solids that are pumped out and treated to AA class gets spread through our farmland.
I can understand for a priority to have those east of the railroad being hooked up to sewer, but let’s get the sewers fixed which seems to seems to have some serious issues. Once the infrastructure has the capacity without continuously spilling year after year. There also has to be a better way of treatment to get rid nitrogen and phosphorus that can flow into the lagoon, as well as being able to remove all other nutrients and pathogens.
What we don’t have, or have ever had is an elected official to be our Indian River Lagoon Champion. Someone to start having some action instead of continually putting off any action, and continuing studying the issue as if we don’t know what the issue is. For example, why does Brevard County still allow septic tanks permits within a half mile of the Indian River Lagoon? I was told Septic Tank Permits come from the state, so no one in the county or county office has bothered to approach the state? Why did it take two years to justify spending $1800 to repair the one truck to clean out the county baffle boxes? Why did we have to argue for years and years for the fertilizer ban?
This has been going on for 50 years. Same Nightmare, Different Day!
Maureen Rupe is President of Partnership for Sustainable Future, Natural Resource consultant for the League of Women Voters of the Space Coast, and is a board member of Marine Resources Council, Turtle Coast Sierra Club, and Parrish Medical Center. She is a lifelong environmentalist and activist, and has lived in Brevard County for thirty years.
*ED. NOTE: The views expressed here are solely those of the author. SCPA does not endorse candidates and welcomes commentary on a wide range of issues, including political campaigns, local,regional and national. If interested in contributing commentary, please contact SCPA.