Another pollutant dumped into our Lagoon!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
September 2007

In order to cope with our county’s increase human population, Indian River County’s utilities department plans to add 6 more deep wells into the Floridian aquifer in the north county and another well in the south county.  Before aquifer water is fit to drink, the salt must be removed by forcing the water through membranes, which leaves concentrated brine, which must be disposed of. 

Very different than seawater, this brine is toxic to fish.  As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP) to stop Indian River County from piping this concentrated brine directly into the Indian River Lagoon from their Reverse Osmosis plant.

Photo by Bob Montanaro.

To solve this waste brine disposal problem, the Indian River County Utility Department and their consultants have applied for a DEP permit to excavate 22 acres of fine upper salt marsh along our lagoon for the construction of settling ponds and ditches.  Brine, diluted with water pumped in from the adjacent lagoon, will flow into 47 acres of mangrove forest and then into 2 ditches that empty into the Lagoon.  The county’s own Chief Environmental Planner, Roland Dubois, described these coastal wetlands, now euphemistically called “Spoonbill Marsh”, and the related buffer uplands having HIGH ENVIRONMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE. 

Why spend taxpayer money to damage one environmental marsh within the Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve with designated Class II Outstanding Florida Waters and then spend more taxpayer’s money to repair another already damaged marsh? 

Moreover, both the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) previously determined the county’s plan would have a substantial adverse impact on essential fish habitat in the Indian River Lagoon.  Why risk further ruination of our commercial and recreational fisheries with this ill-conceived venture?

The ramifications of this project are more than local, Humans are running out of potable water around the world.  Our Audubon Board and scientists including the Florida’s Subcommittee on Managed Marshes are concerned that wetlands and estuaries around the country are being examined as potential RO wastewater dumping grounds.  Indian River County could be setting a precedent for a major National battle particularly if wetlands and productive estuaries are impacted by RO effluent release.

Dr. Grant Gilmore, a world-class scientist, says the consultants did not adequately address site-specific hydrology, local plants and animals, dynamics, and function as there is so much previous work in local wetlands available.  Gilmore did indepth studies of similar, adjacent wetlands at Grand Harbor  in 1990-1994.  The county and their consultants also ignored all the valuable regional local fishery species that their project will impact directly.

If this project must go through, we strongly suggest that the County:

  1. Involve the scientific community and especially consider Gilmore’s Grand Harbor 1990-94 study. 
  2. Evaluate all the valuable regional local fishery species that the project will impact directly.
  3. Consider other less sensitive sites or ones already used for mitigation.  Why not an inland site as suggested by the National Marine Fisheries Service?
  4. This project is estimated to cost $4 million to build.  Set aside long term additional finances to independently monitor the project to determine long-term effects.  Such critical research is not easy as it involves counting fish, birds, dolphins on an annual basis and continuously measuring water quality, as well as determining what is happening to animals, plants, and microorganisms down the food chain, and most important, evaluation of high marsh and mangrove substrates.  Or will it be simply left to future generations to discover the negative impact on these variables once it’s too late to do anything about it?
  5. Plan for what would happen to the toxic brine in the 22 acres if another level 4 hurricane hits the saturated area.
  6. Normally a high marsh goes through an annual wet and dry period.  What will happen to the high marsh if it is saturated all year with diluted brine?  One could expect this to negatively affect the food chain.

Our Lagoon is a precious resource for tourists, food for our tables, nurseries for our fishes, sustenance for our nesting birds, and necessary for our recreation and pleasure.  The mangroves in this area also are a protection against hurricanes inundating our homes. 

With all of the hazards already threatening our dolphins, turtles, fish, and our sick and dying lagoon, why would we even consider the risks associated with dumping more pollutants into an Aquatic Preserve and thereby risk destroying part of one of the few remaining natural marshes left in Indian River County?  At best, this industrial project is a temporary solution, not a sustainable one.  It remains to be seen whether the impacts of this project are temporary or permanent.

Surprisingly, the DEP is planning to permit this questionable project!  Please in the next 3 days write a letter of objection to: Department of Environmental Protection, Office of General Counsel, Mail Station 35, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. 

Be sure to include your name, address, the Department Permit File Number 31-256136-001 in Indian River County in your objection.  A copy to PIAS would be appreciated.

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