By Susan Burgess
Posted July 16, 2013 at 4 a.m.
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Bob Bruce minces no words when he talks about the current condition of the once-pristine Indian River Lagoon.
“It’s declining and we don’t want a cesspool in our backyard causing property values to become depressed, especially the ones fronting on the lagoon,” said Bruce, a former county Planning and Zoning Board chairman who co-chairs the Indian River Neighborhood Association’s Water and Lagoon Committee with Debby Ecker.
The committee is adamant about telling local governments they want the lagoon’s sea grasses to return, fishing to improve, and the lagoon’s economic and recreational values restored.
Well known for its interest in managing growth in Indian River County, the nearly 7,000-member association added the Indian River Lagoon’s degrading water quality to its priorities in March.
“They are a pretty influential group,” said County Commissioner Tim Zorc, who invited Bruce to represent the association on his 20-member Indian River Lagoon Working Group. “It will be great to work with them.”
The association, which represents about 300 smaller organizations, works to preserve the quality of life and natural resources in Indian River County.
“We saw there was an opportunity for people to pull together and propose remedies,” said Ecker, a former Audubon board member and local activist. “This brought together a number of interests, in terms of preservation of natural resources because the lagoon makes such an important contribution to our lives.”
Three priorities top the committee’s list: leaky septic tanks; stormwater runoff that carries fertilizer and pesticides to the lagoon; and stormwater runoff from roadways that washes grass clippings from roadsides and medians, as well as oil, gas and other toxic substances into the lagoon.
The easiest to fix may be fertilizer usage, Ecker said. On July 2, the Indian River County Commission agreed to adopt fertilizer regulations drafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Stormwater and septic tank pollution, together with the loss of 47,000 acres of sea grasses, has driven fishing guides to the Fort Pierce and Sebastian inlets, where tidal flushing improves the water quality, said Brian Carman, a fishing guide, committee member and the association’s former executive director.
Fishing guides like him have seen a decline in fishing and water quality since 2009, he said.
“It’s been like that for over a year now.”
The committee plans to see what Zorc’s group does before deciding whether it should present the County Commission with a separate or combined list of problems and possible solutions.
“The committee wants to take a direct look at what we can do and what ideas we can bring to local governments,” Carman said. “The association is an advocacy group. So government has to do this.”
Solutions to some problems, such as leaky septic tanks, could prove costly, Carman said.
“But we can ask local governments to look into ways to find funding to ease the burden on property owners.”