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Nancy Smith

Sewage Hits the Fan in Brevard

April 14, 2018 - 6:00am

It's good to see a Florida waterfront county where so many citizens -- if not the majority of their county commissioners -- are prepared to do whatever it takes to rid local waters of sewage effluent. 

The Indian River Lagoon at Brevard County needs the kiss of life.

"The lagoon has lost 95 percent of its seagrass, it's suffered not only massive fish kills, but die-off of endangered manatees, dolphins, and pelicans," says Harbor Branch and Florida Atlantic University marine biologist Brian Lapointe, whose four peer-reviewed studies of local waters show where the bulk of the problem is coming from.

Sewage in the water.

Lapointe says over the years Brevard County has paid out millions of dollars for muck research and removal from the lagoon bottom, but has spent very little on the root cause of the problem -- sewage.

The issue came to a head at Tuesday night's Brevard County Commission meeting when commissioners were set to discuss how to spend the $44 million, more than originally anticipated, raised in 2017 by the county's half-percent sales tax for lagoon restoration.

Call it an unfortunate coincidence for commissioners ... earlier that day, neighborhoods of waterfront residents were left desolate and crying on canal banks near Merritt Island where hundreds of dead fish floated in brown water.

The Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island area of the lagoon is in its third month of a brown algae bloom that's been killing seagrass and other lagoon life since 2012.

"This is a crisis ... The Band-Aids on the cancer patient aren't working," Merritt Island boat captain Alex Gorichky told the five commissioners. The voters, he said, will "replace every single last one of you until we get it right. We're fed up. We're done. We're done with dirty water. We're done with the nasty lagoon. The crisis is still a crisis, and it's not being treated as the crisis it is."

Commissioners wanted to spend most of the money on muck removal. Of Brevard's approximately 60,000 septic tanks, they would devote only enough money to some 1,700 septic tanks.

Said John Hitchcock of Palm Bay, president of Florida Wetlands Forever, "This is a $1 billion problem. ... The county's plan for spending this $427 million over 10 years has no basis, we have no idea if it's going to work. ... We have four-to-six peer-reviewed studies that tell us ...we need to sewer the whole county," Hitchcock said of Lapointe's work.

Retired civil engineer Jim Glass, a member of the Florida Coastal Conservation Association, talked about his 40 years of experience with septic-to-sewer conversions in Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay. 

"The sea grass is the lifeblood of the lagoon," Glass explained. "Sea grasses are back in Sarasota now." He also regaled his work in the Florida Keys on a $1 billion program to eliminate 23,000 septic tanks and 235 small wastewater treatment plants. Work in the Keys started in 1998, finished in 2000, and only now is the last septic tank gone.

"We need a moratorium on all new septic tanks, inspect existing ones and reprioritize the (lagoon restoration spending) plan. We need a detailed master plan and timeline to fix the lagoon," he said.

See Florida Today for coverage of the commission meeting. To see a complete telecast, click here

"Muck buildup is a symptom of a sewage-driven eutrophication problem," Lapointe preaches during his presentations. "Brevard County," he says, "is actually using the Indian River Lagoon as part of its sewage treatment process. Just as solids, or muck, need to be periodically removed from sewage treatment plants, this is what they're now doing in the Indian River Lagoon, mostly removing muck."

If you get a chance, watch the meeting, starting at about one-third of the way through it.

What you will hear from public testimony is a call to re-prioritize funds for a wastewater master plan that will begin an aggressive septic-to-sewer program, and much-needed improvements in wastewater collection and treatment to AWT (advanced wastewater treatment, i.e. nutrient removal).

But you'll get none of that from commissioners, three of whom apparently weren't moved by those residents. Chair Rita Pritchett, and Commissioners Jim Barfield and Curt Smith voted in favor of spending the money a la business as usual, dividing it up on more than 30 different lagoon projects; Vice Chair Kristine Isnardi and Commissioner John Tobia seemed poised for a new direction.

Some Brevard voters are talking about "a whole new commission" in November. "We're dead serious about our lagoon," retired Cocoa Beach nurse Marian Ryan told me Friday. "It's ours to care for, we're the stewards for the people and all living creatures who come after us."

Incidentally, Lapointe was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting because he was in Miami, preparing for the PBS 10th Anniversary of its series "Changing Seas." Producers highlighted  his research in several episodes, particular the research relating to sewage pollution as the No. 1 problem in the Indian River Lagoon. (His septic research in the lagoon also had national attention from the Washington Post and the engineering journal Informed Infrastructure ... but who's counting?)

Meanwhile, Randy Fine, R-South Brevard County, a legislator I consider a hero for his efforts to make wrong local lagoon decisions right, did sit in on Tuesday night's commission meeting. Unfortunately, I was unable to connect with him before the weekend.

To recap, as a result of Fine's efforts, Brevard has been compelled to spend more than $12 million on sewage system repairs under a consent order prepared in March by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Brevard's illegal dumping of 22,782,439 gallons of raw sewage into the Indian River in 21 separate releases from Sept. 11 to Oct. 19, 2017, so enraged Fine he determined to compel the county to fix its infrastructure so such malfeasance never happens again.

The consent decree requires the County Commission to complete three projects by the end of 2020: the completion of 3.5 miles of force main on North Riverside Drive between Eau Gallie and Oakland Avenue in Indialantic; complete $1.9 million of clay pipe rehabilitation in seven collection basins in the South Beaches; and complete smoke testing of sewage pipes in Satellite Beach.

Unsurprisingly, the consent order did not arise Tuesday night -- or, if it did, I missed it.

 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

Seagrass is on the decline and we still protect a species not indigenous, that consumes every blade that dares to grow. The warm water from powerlants keeps them from roaming like they used to. I like manatees; but they are part of the problem

Manatees are the very least of any problems the lagoon suffers , thats just nonsense. I've spent over 40 years on the water in the lagoon. When we had grass in the lagoon, I would see "cut" grass floating on the water. This was from boats running the shallows. I would watch 50 to 60 out of town boats just tear up the grass flats before and during these Redfish tournaments that were suppose to bring to the locals. All they did was destroy grass in their quest for tournament fish. Too many people, too much construction, too many pollutants, septic tank sewage, all combined with bad algae out breaks, are making for the perfect storm.

The Brevard County Commision is so far gone that a total revamp is needed. Barfields term is up so that'll hopefully fix itself. The Commision here in Brevard is notorious for deciding and granting big dollar issues to it's friends and family. North Merritt Island alone has suffered for years from their decision making. Old families on North Merritt Island like the Crisafulli's who Steve Crisafulli was a state senator are continiously given favorable decisions that amount to large amounts of revenue for them while hurting the locals. The Crisafulli name use to be a very respectful name in the area now it's associated with the muck they intend to profit from that the county is paying them to put on their land. This land is between neighborhoods and individual homes. In an area that has a terrible record of flooding and ground water issues already. The Commission has destroyed North Merritt Island with this and many other bad decisions impacting the area. They are over the inept and totally useless office of the Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox. He and his worthless attorneys are afraid of taking someone on but would rather settle issues and let the problem makers have their way and continue to harm the Island. They have continually been defeated by some of the most unethical and lower class attorneys in the area who's clients are just as bad. It's embarrasing to have such poor leadership here in Brevard when it has the resources and awesome residents that it has. Time for them and their friends to go!

Eco Sciences, LLC and Solarorganite Division can help with Waste Elimination Process and SAVE Homeowners money and Protects our Environment. The newly patented SolarOrganite® process will eliminates septic tank. The process is fueled only by the sun using the SolarOrganite® Process. The Waste Elimination Process will provide people on septic tanks here in Florida and the USA with a safe, sustainable and sanitary method for getting rid of their septic sludge that is polluting our land, lakes, springs, rivers and all other water sources. With this new SolarOrganite® all State and US EPA 503 Requirements.This new patented processing has the capability of heating septic waste to a high enough temperature using the SolarOrganite® Process in an enclosed chamber to pasteurize and sterilize human waste and create a 99% totally dried end product. The device is a next-generation toilet septic tank waste treatment process using only solar energy that can be used to disinfect toilet, septic liquid and solid waste while generating useful and environmentally safe end products. Sewage waste is either pumped or gravity feed into the SolarOrganite® processing chamber. Based on the amount of sewage waste, determine the size of the processing chamber needed. The heat energy generated by the sun with SolarOrganite® Chamber to fully dry pasteurization-sterilization in the chamber that can heat up the reaction chamber to well over 70 degrees Celsius to treat the waste material, disinfect pathogens in both feces and urine, and produces a safe end product. The end product then meets all State and Federal Environmental Regulations. The fully dried, pasteurized-sterilized end product will be reduces by 99.9%-100% and the very small volume of dried material should be removed from the chamber every five to ten years. There is NO water or polluted water discharge to protect land, lakes, springs, rivers and all other water sources. EcoSciences@gmail.com 352-358-1222 www.EcoSciencesLLC.com

First get rid of ever one of those jackass on the county commission board and do not elect anyone that has been on the county commission board before. Next get rid of thos stupid ecological ignorant members of the SOIRL Citizen Oversight Committee." They are the ones approving the muck removal. They approve the wasted money on the oyster bed project that the Zoo is making thousands of dollars on. It appears that there things going on behind the scene where individuals are more interested in making money, taking the 1/2 cent tax money and do not give a damn about whether it helps clean up the lagoon. They use their influence to sell wetlands so it can then be filled in by MUCH which is exactly they are doing in north Merritt Island. Get involved take back our county government . We love our lagoon.

I'd keep John Tobia and Kristine Isnardi as they're the only ones that voted in favor of the needed measures to rehab and renew the lagoon. The rest of them need to be investigated and brought up on criminal charges. You know when your constituents are as vocal as we have been and they continually ignore us that they have something to gain personally and/or financially.

First get rid of ever one of those jackass on the county commission board and do not elect anyone that has been on the county commission board before. Next get rid of thos stupid ecological ignorant members of the SOIRL Citizen Oversight Committee." They are the ones approving the muck removal. They approve the wasted money on the oyster bed project that the Zoo is making thousands of dollars on. It appears that there things going on behind the scene where individuals are more interested in making money, taking the 1/2 cent tax money and do not give a damn about whether it helps clean up the lagoon. They use their influence to sell wetlands so it can then be filled in by MUCH which is exactly they are doing in north Merritt Island. Get involved take back our county government . We love our lagoon.

I think they need to use the money that the taxpayers already gave them..-better. I disagree with any discussions going forward about coming back to taxpayers w/their hand out, wanting any extra money. This river has always had problems. It isn't something new to the last 20 yrs. I've lived in this area,pretty much of the last 53 yr. I can remember it being 'nasty' in the 70's. My dad took us water skiing there + when we'd come uo out of the water, the hairs on our arms would get this black gooey stuff on them.

Replace them all until we get it right. use the tax dollars for the lagoon period.

I have lived here for 23 years and have watched our Lagoon deteriorate. Every election we are promised a real fix to then just put another bandaid on the problem. The animals and fish that luce in our lagoon are sick with sores and ulcers in them. I would not eat any fish that comes out of this cesspool. The 1/2 cent sales tax was suppose to raise enough to make a huge dent in this crisis. Have no idea where that mobey went. Astroturf and special interests? Come November, please help by voting those out that do not put this river to number one on their list of priorities. Thanks Randy for fighting the good fight!

Septic system do not effectively remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater. Septic systems remove solids and bacteria if operating properly, that is it. In coastal systems the groundwater table is very close to the surface and groundwater flows to the lowest point which is the coast, i.e. the lagoon. You can’t flush waste into septic tanks and believe it magically disappears. Wastewater plants will only effectively help solve the problem if they are required to achieve AWT standards. This is what the Grizzle-Figg legislation did for Tampa Bay and today we have more seagrass than we did in the 1950’s. It take political courage and an a passionate community. Looks like the community is on board, so where are the strong policy makers?

This person has the right Idea. Waste water plant needs to be Brevard county's number one priority no ands, ifs,or buts about it. Then follow through.

This person has the right Idea. Waste water plant needs to be Brevard county's number one priority no ands, ifs,or buts about it. Then follow through.

Nowthat Brevard Co. has been bought to your attion Nancy....investigate the SPENDING of these TAXES RAISED yearly.(not including YEARLY CHARGE on your PROPERTY TAXES) .on Helping the Indian River ...This been going on forYEARS & YEARS this RESEARCH COST SCAM on taxpayers ....BUT NOTHING BEING DONE on SPENDING OF of TaxPayers on CLEANING UP.LIKE HEAVY FINES on..Buisnesses & Motels along Indian river been dumping there Sewage in RIVER since the 1960's...NOTHING DONE that you can thank your City Council Member for that......Waste Water Plants are Regular Inspections from DEP....and State registered of Waste Water treated & released in Waterways.....Buisneses are not regulated by DEP......

Glad to see at least 1 County in Florida is addressing this issue. Not so much on the west coast though. The mayor of St. Pete, little Ricky Criseman allows thousands of gallons of sewerage to dump into Tampa Bay every time it rains a little heavy and still enjoys a 70 percent approval rating. Only in Floriduh.

What is it that you don't understand.....septic systems do not discharge sewage into the surface waters.....Representative Fine is on point.....the discharge of 80 MILLION GALLONS OF WASTEWATER EACH DAY from WASTEWATER treatment plants are part of the problem.....the fact that the infrastructure is broken and untreated sewage is discharged is a huge problem. Laponte fails to point that out.....he is a waste of money

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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