Water Quality equal to Boston Harbor’s RAW SEWAGE dumping

Source: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/11/move-over-fertilizer-septic-tank-drainage-also/

Investigation: Move over fertilizer; septic tank drainage also contaminating Indian River Lagoon

Study found nutrient levels in Indian River Lagoon as high as Boston Harbor’s when raw sewage was dumped there

By Scott Wyland
Posted August 11, 2013 at 4 a.m.

 

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU TC Palm for writing this article and making it front page news on Sunday.  But let’s lead with the big fact -

Harbor Branch has concluded that the contamination levels in Indian River Lagoon are comparable to that of Boston Harbor/Storrow River when the city was dumping RAW SEWAGE into the water. 

Does this not freak anyone else out??  I lived in Boston for eight lovely years, I boated about in the Storrow.  Any time the water splashed on you – you panicked.  You immediately dried yourself off.  I remember advertisements for volunteers for harbor and fens clean up – one looking for volunteers to help clean up the “human debris”  aka bodies.  We’re comparable to that????? Hello freak out button.   I can’t even explain how horrible the water conditions were there.  It’s also alarming that we’re polluting on the level of one of the largest cities in the US (note: they’ve made major efforts for clean up, kudos Boston).  The population in Okechobee is 5600.  The affected towns along the river are also clearly not Boston si

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This chart shows the dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels between 2011 and 2012 in the Indian River Lagoon. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen feeds algae blooms in the lagoon.

An angler launches a boat from his Sebastian waterfront home and zooms across the Indian River Lagoon to where his favorite sea grass bed was once teeming with fish he could almost grab with his bare hands.

But the sea grass and fish are gone. Clumps of algae now mottle the sandy bottom in the nearly barren, tea-colored water.

Harlan Franklin glances at several dolphins frolicking in the distance, a majestic sight for many people but a frustrating one for him. He would rather see fish.

Franklin, a former fishing columnist, blames the runoff funneled through canals into the lagoon for killing the sea grass. Septic tanks that leach into canals, groundwater and the lagoon contribute to the pollution, he said, though he’s not sure how much.

“I moved here to fish,” said Franklin, who has lived near the lagoon since 2006. “It’s a major disappointment.”

Researchers at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce have found sewage contaminating the entire 156-mile lagoon. Indian River County’s levels are comparable to Boston Harbor’s when raw sewage was dumped there, a new water analysis shows.

Despite growing evidence that septic tanks play a role in the lagoon’s degradation, most elected leaders are hesitant to tackle this part of the problem, largely because many property owners oppose increased septic regulations, a Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation found.

Some scientists and regulatory agencies point to fertilizers as the main source of the nutrient runoff generating heavy algae in the lagoon. But Harbor Branch professor Brian LaPointe believes sewage carries more of the nutrients spurring algae growth.

“It’s really unclear how much fertilizer is reaching the lagoon,” LaPointe said. “But one septic tank on 4 acres — that’s enough to create a nutrient problem.”

Algal blooms block sunlight that sea grass needs to thrive. As the algae decompose, they deplete oxygen, which can suffocate sea grass and fish, turning clear, biodiverse waters into a murky dead zone.

Local treatment plants discharge some effluent, though most wastewater in the lagoon comes from septic tanks, said LaPointe, who has studied sewage impacts on waterways for 30 years.

There are about 120,000 septic systems on the Treasure Coast, the newspaper investigation found. As many as half were installed before stricter regulations were enacted in 1983, making them more likely to drain sewage into groundwater that ends up in the lagoon, according to data from the counties and Harbor Branch.

No one knows how many systems affect the lagoon, and recordkeeping is sketchier on older septic tanks that could cause the most harm.

One thing is certain: sewage taints the estuary.

LaPointe’s research team took a total of three lagoon-wide samples in 2011 and 2012 and found nitrogen isotopes in the algae, an element directly linked to sewage. Elevated levels of ammonium and nitrate also were detected, LaPointe said, noting anything above 3 parts per million indicates sewage.

This chart shows nitrogen isotopes in microalgae from sewage impacted coastal waters.

He called the findings a smoking gun.

All three counties on the Treasure Coast showed at least 5 parts per million. Indian River County had as much as 9 parts per million, putting it on par with troubled water bodies such as Boston Harbor, according to the research.

“I was taken aback by that,” LaPointe said. “We don’t just have a problem, we have a serious problem.”

OWNERS RESIST

North America’s most biodiverse estuary is losing some of its wildlife.

Much of the red algae, known as gracilaria, has a toxic residue LaPointe and other researchers think might have killed 145 manatees, more than 50 dolphins and about 300 pelicans in the lagoon earlier this year in Brevard County. Manatees munched on the stringy algae when it overtook sea grass, their normal dietary staple. Dolphins and pelicans eat fish that ingest the algae.

Sea grass is a vital part of the lagoon’s food web, feeding small fish and mussels larger creatures eat. An estimated 47,000 acres of sea grass has died north of Fort Pierce since 2007, experts say. In areas where it has vanished, most manatees and many fish species have left in search of better pickings, creating dead zones.

Aside from nutrients — such as nitrogen and phosphorous — sewage also contains coliform bacteria, viruses, prescription drugs and anything else flushed down the toilet, LaPointe said.

A conservationist criticizes what he says is public leaders’ reluctance to impose measures to keep septic sewage from harming the lagoon’s ecosystem.

“They have been neglecting, ignoring these septic systems,” said Richard Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society in Indian River County. “It’s very frustrating that we don’t see more actions taking place. There’s a lot of evidence that groundwater is carrying sewage into the lagoon.”

One option would be to install public sewer lines in areas that don’t have them and order nearby septic tank users to hook in, Baker said. Another would be toughening codes to require faulty systems to be fixed or scrapped.

Property owners are some of the staunchest opponents to government telling them what to do with their septic systems, especially if the changes cost money. Elected leaders tend to align with their constituents.

Replacing a tank and drainfield costs between $5,000 and $7,000 depending on the size of the home, according to vendors. If soil must be replaced, the cost of trucking in sand can bump the price to $10,000 or more.

“You start telling people they got to pay that, they’re going to tell you to stuff it,” said Franklin, who’s hooked to county sewer but is sympathetic to neighbors with septic tanks.

In 2003, Indian River County attempted to connect residents in Wabasso and Pine islands to county sewer and water lines. County officials backed off when residents complained they couldn’t afford the costs, estimated at $5,000 or more.

SEEKING SUBSIDIES

Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc, who wants to restore the lagoon’s health, believes a surgical approach — targeting subpar septic tanks — is less divisive than trying to overhaul an entire area such as the barrier island.

“We want to be practical,” Zorc said. “You have to prioritize your areas. Not all systems have to be replaced.”

Newer septic tanks have better filtration and funnel less solid waste to underground drainfields, which means less sewage would leach into groundwater and the lagoon, said Zorc, a longtime builder.

Still, even well-functioning systems can pollute the lagoon if they were built too close to the water, Zorc said. In that case, the household should connect to a central sewer.

The main snag is cost, Zorc said.

Baker said there are loan programs that let people pay for sewer connections over time at a lower interest rate. So fees should not be a barrier, he said.

County and city programs differ.

County residents close enough to sewer lines to hook up would pay could pay the $2,800 connection fee over five years at a 5.75 percent interest rate, said Cindy Corrente, county utilities manager.

About 3,000 households in Vero Beach’s service area are on septic, but only 10 have access to city sewer, so the rest would need to pay $15,000-plus to have new lines installed, said Rob Bolton, the city’s water and sewer director.

These customers could spread the payments throughout 20 years while paying interest at about the prime rate, Bolton said.

Grants also might be available to help homeowners pay for upgrades or to hook to a municipal sewer if it protects a major water resource, Zorc said, adding he will ask water management officials, state lawmakers and congressional leaders about possible grants.

However, state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he’s not inclined to change people’s methods for sewage disposal or pursue state and federal grants to pay for the changes. He said he voted to repeal the state law requiring septic tank inspections, believing it was undue government intrusion.

Negron, who spearheaded a state Senate committee to study the lagoon’s ills, said he wants to concentrate on restoring the Everglades and countering the harmful effects of Lake Okeechobee releases. Still, he is willing to listen to LaPointe, whom U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, invited to speak about septic pollution at the committee’s Aug. 22 meeting in Stuart.

AGING SYSTEMS

Septic systems installed before 1983 cause the most concern.

Aside from aging, the systems can be 25 feet from waterways — some are closer — and the drainfields that hold waste can be 6 inches above groundwater.

State codes enacted in 1983 require the systems to be set back at least 50 feet from a waterway and the drainfield to be at least 2 feet above groundwater. However, the old systems — some of them installed in the 1960s — were grandfathered in. Even if they’re replaced, the owners can keep the 25-foot setback from surface water, said Cheryl Dunn, Indian River County’s environmental health director.

If well-maintained, the average septic system works properly for about 18 years, Dunn said.

Dunn said her health agents don’t look at a septic system unless someone complains, usually because of a stench. A failing system leaks long before it emits foul odors, she said.

“That’s the problem with septic systems,” Dunn said. “They’re put into the ground and forgotten.”

SEWAGE BUILD-UP

Lagoon sewage is the worst in Indian River County, especially during the rainy season.

Heavy storm runoff funneled through the main relief canal combined with a lack of incoming saltwater cause sewage levels to swell, experts say.

Tests show the nutrients that feed algal blooms were the highest when salinity was the lowest, and it coincided with water control districts releasing a high volume of stormwater, LaPointe said.

Dumping stormwater here has a similar effect, though on a smaller scale, as Lake Okeechobee’s freshwater being released into the St. Lucie River, LaPointe said. Increased stormwater carries more sewage, he said, noting the nitrogen isotopes — a chief sewage indicator — spiked to 9 parts per million during the wet seasons.

Another lagoon researcher said the water is often stagnant, allowing nutrients to build up.

Much of the lagoon north of Fort Pierce is enclosed, and the Sebastian Inlet is too small to flush it out adequately, said Grant Gilmore, senior scientist for Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, a Vero Beach research firm.

The county also has thousands of septic systems in low areas near the lagoon, which itself is troublesome, LaPointe said.

In the coming year, a Harbor Branch student will trace the sources of the lagoon’s sewage. That will include looking at canals that link the lagoon to areas with septic systems.

LaPointe and Franklin both say urbanization has dealt a double blow to the lagoon.

Marshes that captured and filtered runoff were replaced with subdivisions that drain more waste into the lagoon, they say.

Franklin slows his boat as he cruises through a manatee protection zone not far from his house. He grumbles that the slow zone is pointless because there are no more manatees here.

“I’m 84, and they’re not going to fix this in my lifetime,” he said.

Click here to see a graphic showing dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels, which feed algae blooms in the lagoon.

Click here for a chart showing nitrogen isotopes in microalgae from sewage impacted coastal waters.

Click here for a chart that represents the amount of macroalgae recorded in the Indian River Lagoon during 2011 and 2012. It also shows the amount of macroalgae represented when when sewage is present.

 

Factoids:

SEPTIC SYSTEM PERMITS

Indian River County:37,000, roughly half issued before 1983. Of the 900 systems on the barrier island — where they’re more likely to be near waterways — 747 are more than 30 years old

St. Lucie County:45,000, about 18,000 date back before 1983

Martin County: 40,000, officials didn’t know how many predate 1983

 

OLDER VS/ NEWER SEPTIC SYSTEMS

Before 1983:

• Septic systems could be 25 feet from waterways, and some were allowed to be closer.

• Drainfields that hold waste can be 6 inches above groundwater at seasonal high.

• Roughly half of Florida’s 2.7 million septic systems were installed before 1983.

 

1983 and later:

• Septic systems must be at least 50 feet from a waterway

• Drainfields must be at least 2 feet above groundwater at seasonal high.

• Pre-1983 systems grandfathered in.

Source: Florida Department of Health

 

INSPECTIONS

A law passed in 2010 required homeowners to inspect septic systems at their expense every five years and called for health officials to ensure all 2.7 million systems statewide were checked every five years. If serious flaws were found, such as leaky tanks, the owners would have to repair or replace the systems.

The law stirred an outcry.

Homeowners, tea party leaders and other critics pressured the Legislature into repealing the law in 2012. Counties were put in charge of inspections and can choose not to do them. Indian River and St. Lucie counties do no routine inspections. Martin County inspects about 120 systems yearly, a fraction of its inventory.

Malcom “Bubba” Wade can suck our infected water.

JENSEN BEACH — If Malcolm “Bubba” Wade felt a twinge of sympathy for the dumped-on St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, his glib tone did a fine job of masking it.

“Another red letter day for the Sugar Barons,” he said, apparently joking, during Thursday’s meeting of the Water Resources Advisory Commission, where his industry was booed by fed-up locals in the audience.

Wade, a vice president with U.S. Sugar Corp., then proceeded to criticize the one idea that advocates believe could bring real relief from the massive discharges of Lake Okeechobee water:

The construction of a “flow way” south.

“Just be careful about using as your No. 1 tactical weapon your flow way. I think it could backfire on you,” the mustachioed sugar exec said during the meeting at Indian RiverSide Park, where signs are posted warning of blue-green algae in the lagoon.

Mark Perry, another commission member and executive director of Florida Oceanographic Society, recently renewed the push for a flow way from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. He and other river advocates say it offers a remedy to the releases that have prompted toxic algae blooms in the St. Lucie River.

But Wade didn’t want to give the concept any traction.

He claimed the idea — specifically the modified “Plan 6” proposal that would require buying 53,000 acres south of the lake — “didn’t make sense” when it was proposed years ago “and it makes no more sense today.”

He offered no alternative, just deflection of blame for the St. Lucie River’s current crisis.

“Your problem with that water is not us,” Wade told the commission, which advises the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board. “It’s north of the lake.”

His position of opposition shouldn’t surprise anyone.

U.S. Sugar and the state’s other giant sugar company, Florida Crystals, have sweet deals in the Everglades Agricultural Area. They get prime irrigation for their crops, and their industries are propped up by federal price supports in the Farm Bill.

What was surprising was how little pushback Wade got from the majority of the Water Resources Advisory Commission.

Kevin Powers, a Martin County native, is vice chair of the commission and of the water management district’s Governing Board. He lives on the St. Lucie River in Stuart, and his late father, Timer Powers, was a well-respected leader who helped broker landmark water deals.

Kevin Powers has an opportunity to emerge as a leader in this crisis, but he was largely silent Thursday.

As a start, he could help by reviving talks about buying more land south of the lake.

The South Florida Water Management District has six years remaining on an option to buy 107,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar.

Perry said the district should “absolutely” be talking about exercising the option.

Yes, it’s expensive.

Yes, it would take time to figure out how to use the land for a flow way.

But the toxic conditions in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are exacting a toll throughout the local economy.

It’s expensive, too.

And there’s no end in sight.

Charter fishing guide Mike Conner, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he’s driving clients more than 100 miles south in search of cleaner water.

During the past month, he has guided three paid trips. Last year, the number was 13.

He has tried to bill the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers for his lost income.

He’s still waiting for a response.

Wade may not think a man-made flow way makes sense.

Letting the damage to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon continue is even more nonsensical.

Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or eve.samples@scripps.com.

 

ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS<br />
Malcolm Wade, a vice president for U.S. Sugar Corp., responds to suggestions of selling off property options for possible Lake Okeechobee discharges during the Water Resources Advisory Commission meeting discussing the state of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon in the Frances Langford Center at Indian RiverSide Park in Jensen Beach on Thursday. “Ain’t gonna happen.”$RETURN$$RETURN$<br />
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Initiatives

Stuart boat captain Alek Loudakis grew up near the St. Lucie Lock, on water he described as “crystal clear and blue, almost like being in the Bahamas.” Today, he calls it “murky, dead, polluted.”

He is so angry that decades of efforts to stop the polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee have come to naught that he is petitioning President Barack Obama’s administration to put an end to it.

As of July 25, 883 people had joined him, signing a whitehouse.gov “We the People” online petition Loudakis posted July 19 with the help of longtime friend and Stuart resident James Hill.

Loudakis wants water to flow south to the Everglades but says Big Sugar with its big campaign contributions is standing squarely in the way.

“Death rides a pale horse and drinks from dirty water,” Loudakis said. “The fish are dying, the dolphins and manatees are dying, the pompano are gone and the fresh polluted water keeps coming out of the lake.”

He needs 100,000 signatures by Aug. 19 to get a response from the federal government. If he doesn’t reach his goal, which he said he assumed he won’t, he’ll start a new petition.

“I’ve been watching this for a long time,” he said. “So many people have tried so hard and it’s all come to nothing.”

Loudakis said he signed Steven Cottrell’s change.org online petition to Gov. Rick Scottasking for an end to the discharges as well. Cottrell’s petition had 6,116 signatures by July 25.

Cottrell said he will send his petition to the governor July 26, but keep it open and send it to Scott each time he gets 2,500 more signatures.

“I plan to be a thorn in the governor’s side,” Cottrell said. “This is something that unites Democrats and Republicans, and there’s an election coming up in a year and a half.”

Leon Abood, chairman of the Rivers Coalition, said he supports both initiatives.

“I am personally pleased and rejuvenated by the amount of community support we have, and any initiative that anyone wants to take is great,” he said.

Cottrell and Loudakis said they were outraged the governor said Treasure Coast waters are not important enough to the state’s economy to merit special treatment or funding.

“I find that Rick Scott is very ignorant of what’s going on,” Loudakis said. “He has vetoed funding for research on the problems that caused these marine life deaths and the destruction of our estuaries. He takes contributions from Big Sugar, which is a leech on taxpayers and is trashing my backyard with our own tax dollars. I’m sending my petition to Obama because we have to try to find a way to go around local government.”

PETITIONS

• Click here for the whitehouse.gov petition.

• Sign the change.org petition.

Algae Releasing Toxins

Source: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/06/algae-samples-st-lucie-river-test-positive-toxins/

 

MARTIN COUNTY — Tests by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have confirmed toxins in the blue-green algae blooms covering the St. Lucie Estuary.

Even before the toxins were confirmed, the Florida Department of Health in Martin County urged residents to avoid contact with algae in the entire estuary, from the St. Lucie Canal to the St. Lucie Inlet.

“Now, knowing that the algae is releasing toxins, we’re continuing that advisory,” said Bob Washam of the county health department.

In late July, concentrations of Microcystis aeruginosa — a type of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, that can produce toxins — began showing up in blooms in the estuary.

Washam said late Tuesday afternoon the toxins were found in samples from three sites in the estuary: Hoggs Cove, in the area where the Rio community and the town of Sewall’s Point meet; Pendarvis Cove in Palm City; and off Harbor Point Drive in the Snug Harbor area of Stuart.

The toxins in Microcystis aeruginosa can be harmful to people and pets. Exposure to water containing toxins may cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rash or hay fever symptoms if touched or inhaled.

Toxins in the algae can kill small animals in the estuary, such as shrimp and crabs.

In late July, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lab found Microcystis aeruginosa in all seven samples collected by the health department. However, further tests by the Department of Environmental Protection were necessary to confirm the presence of toxins.

In a related matter, the health departments in both Martin and St. Lucie counties reported results of recent tests for enteric bacteria.

St. Lucie health officials urged residents Tuesday to avoid contact with the North Fork of the St. Lucie River from River Park Marina at Prima Vista Boulevard south to Martin County. Testing revealed higher than normal levels of enteric bacteria. The four locations sampled were River Park Marina, Veterans Park, Kitching Cove and waters near Harbour Ridge. The advisory will remain in effect until results show consistent readings in the good range.

Martin County announced Tuesday afternoon levels of enteric bacteria at the sandbar in the Indian River Lagoon between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point had returned to the “good” level in tests Monday.

Washam said the department is still warning people to avoid contact with water at the popular weekend gathering spot for boaters.

The bacteria — which may come from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage — can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.

“We want to have a few weeks of ‘good’ results before we say the sandbar is safe,” Washam said. “Besides, it’s in an area where blue-green algae has been found, so people should stay out of the water.”

Other sample sites near the Roosevelt Bridge and Sandsprit Park in Stuart and Leighton Park in Palm City remain in the “poor” range and are also part of the advisory.

Bacteria levels around the Roosevelt Bridge have been “poor” every week since June 17, according to the health department. At Sandsprit Park, the bacteria levels have been “poor” since July 1.

Washam said bacteria levels at the Stuart and Jensen Beach causeways are in the “satisfactory” range, and the areas are considered safe for contact. Ocean beaches throughout the county are in the good range.

The current algae blooms and hikes in bacteria levels are more common when a combination of conditions — nutrients, low-salinity, warm water and sunlight — occur.

Local runoff from many days of rain and discharges of nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee have contributed the first two criteria. The Lake O releases began May 8. On Monday, nutrient-rich freshwater has been flowing through the St. Lucie Lock into the estuary and Indian River Lagoon at a rate of almost 3.8 billion gallons of water a day.

WHAT TO KNOW

Here’s what you need to know about blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, that has been reported in the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon:

Some species produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick, causing stomach and intestinal illness, respiratory distress, allergic reactions, skin irritations, liver damage and neurotoxic reactions.

Swallowing even small amounts of toxin can result in flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In large amounts, toxins can damage the liver, kidneys and the nervous system.

Swimming or wading in a bloom can result in skin irritation, hives, blisters and rashes.

Inhaling toxins can result in hay fever-like symptoms such as itchy eyes, sore throat and congestion.

Because of their size, children and pets are at greater risk for poisoning.

If you or your pet is exposed to toxins, rinse immediately and thoroughly with fresh water and soap.

To report illness from exposure, call the Florida Poison Information Center at 800-222-1222.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

 

CLICK HERE for a video of the algae causing rashes and allergic reactions
http://www.tcpalm.com/videos/detail/wptv-toxic-algae-causing-rashes-and-lesions

Human Chain to Protest Lake O Discharges

So so so so proud of all these folks.  Will it be enough to get our voices heard?

 

This screenshot taken from WPTV's Chopper 5 shows a human chain forming at the Indian River Lagoon rally Sunday in Stuart.Thousands of protesters stretched across Jensen and Stuart beaches Sunday as part of a rally against discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.

And they say they won’t stop protesting until they win the fight.

According to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, between 2,000 to 2,500 people showed up to create the human chain across the Martin County shoreline, but organizers Evan Miller and Clint Starling estimates more than 5,000 took part.

“We connected the chain all the way to Jensen,” Miller said at Stuart Beach.

It was the second protest put on by Miller and Starling to challenge millions of gallons of water being discharged daily from the lake and local runoff into the Indian River Lagoon. A South Florida Water Management District official said last week there’s a good chance the lake releases will continue at some level through the winter and possibly into the spring.

Protesters arrived at the beaches wearing costumes and wielding signs expressing their displeasure with the state of the waterway.

More than 5,000 gathered at the first protest Aug. 3 at Phipps Park in Stuart.

“This is a remarkable event showing broad-based community support to demand cleaning up our waterways,” said Martin County Commissioner John Haddox at the Sunday rally.

Miller said another rally was in the works, but an exact date and time had not been set yet.

“I’m glad that people are coming out to show their support to save the lagoon,” said Mike Schneider of Hobe Sound. “It needs to be done. Change needs to happen now.”