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.

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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
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$

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.”

Higher levels of bacteria in Indian River

Found here: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/12/harbor-branch-higher-levels-bacteria-found-indian/

 

FORT PIERCE – There is an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Indian River Lagoon according to a new study released by FAU Harbor Branch scientists.

A check of water samples taken over the past year there indicates a sizable increase in bacteria, according the the study.

Water testing has taken place where Taylor Creek feeds into the lagoon as well as near the FAU Harbor Branch campus.

Both agricultural and urban runoff have contributed to higher bacteria levels in the Taylor Creek samples, according to scientists.

FAU Harbor Branch says that antibiotics are used extensively in medicine to prevent infections in humans and animals as well as in agriculture to promote the growth of livestock.

Scientists have found that antibiotics are being released into the environment and have been detected in waste water, surface water, ground water and sediments.

FAU Harbor Branch says that the antibiotics in the environment are contributing to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

HARBOR BRANCH NEWS RELEASE

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (August 12, 2013) – Preliminary research from FAU Harbor Branch scientists has uncovered an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Indian River Lagoon. The study compared water samples taken from two locations in the lagoon in June 2011, 2012 and 2013. Data indicates a sizeable increase in the amount of bacteria present this year as compared to the two years prior.

“It is important to remember that these findings are preliminary,” said Peter McCarthy, Ph.D., an FAU Harbor Branch research professor who oversees the study. “Our goal is to continue to pursue this work, but funding will play a critical role in our ability to do so.”

The testing sites included where Taylor Creek feeds into the lagoon, as well as a second site close to the FAU Harbor Branch campus. Research showed that levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria were much higher in the Taylor Creek samples, a waterway which is impacted by agricultural and urban development and receives discharges from the C-25 canal as well as the Fort Pierce Farms Water Control District C-1 canal.

In a previous FAU Harbor Branch study, antibiotic-resistant bacteria had been detected in samples taken from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon (Schaefer et al. 2009). These findings are what led to this water sampling research in 2011 and additional sampling of local dolphins is ongoing. Results from both projects, along with environmental data will provide a comprehensive overview of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the lagoon.

Antibiotics are used extensively in medicine to prevent and treat microbial infections in humans and animals, as well as in agriculture to promote the growth of livestock. As a result, antibiotics are released into the environment through disposal and excretion and have been detected in waste water, surface water, ground water and sediments. Exposure to these large quantities of antibiotics can lead to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogenic strains of bacteria.

For more information, contact Carin Smith at 772-242-2230 or carinsmith@fau.edu.

Reader Comment: Committee Meeting

Another concerned citizen, Pam, sent in this info about a committee meeting on August 22.  The committee members will be discussing how to address the Okeechobee dumping and we can send in our comments.  See Pam’s note below on how to do so.  Thanks so much, Pam!! #savethelagoon !

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In case you do not yet have this info: go to http://www.flsenate.gov and click on “Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin” for info on the August 22 workshop being held 1pm – 9pm at the Charles & Rae Kane Center, 900 SE Salerno Rd, Stuart.

The public may attend, and there will be time at the end of the meeting for “Public Testimony”. Sen. Joe Negron is the Chair of this Select Committee, along with 7 other FL Senators. When you go to the webpage, you can also click on the link “Workshop List of Participants” to see the names of those on each Panel, the agenda, invited officials and speakers. Their outline states “Specifically, participants will be asked to discuss the short term options or alternatives to reduce or eliminate the current releases from Lake Okeechobee”. On this site, there is a form to submit your comments to the Select Committee.

Another website for info on members of the Select Committee: http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/SIRO

Thanks for the great work you are doing to help save our Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River, marine life and wildlife. I read that Sanibel Island beaches are also being dumped on from Lake Okeechobee, via the Caloosahatchee River. The Mayor & City Coucil of Sanibel have written a letter to the Senate Select Committee, urging them to include the Caloosahatchee River with the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee issue.

I hope this info helps. It would be great if you could pass on this info, so people can make their voices heard to the committee before the hearing on Aug. 22.

Keep up the good work and keep the faith! Together, we can make a difference!

Pam Muse, Casselberry, FL