Coming together to turn negatives into positives; can we do it here in Indian River County for the good of the Indian River Lagoon?

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2013

What a wonderful positive headline in the PJ the other day: SUP-erman Paddleboarder Justin Riney, an outdoorsman, ready for the year on his board promoting the protection of local waters.  Why doesn’t he run for the county or city governments where we need Superfolks to save our lagoon for the fishermen, tourists, businessmen and the economy of our area?

Have you visited lately the spoil islands that were built in the 50s and 60s when the Inter Coastal Waterway was dredged? They are wonderful places to explore, picnic, or camp for free in our Lagoon.  However, there is no regulation, which might make some folks happy, but unfortunately, they are becoming our county’s second dumps with cans, bottles, paper, and human waste.  Those who leave the evidence of their visit, either to picnic, stay over night and/or to eliminate their human waste, are doing a great disservice to our Lagoon.  What do we do with folks who do not clean up after themselves and pack the trash out?  Solutions? We could supply trashcans and port-o-potties or require a permit or require portable camp toilets to stop there.  This in addition: old septic systems along the shores are degrading the Lagoon and need to be replaced.  A goal should be to make the Lagoon swimmable again. Individual citizen initiative and action could go a long way to make this happen.

Photo: Bob Montanaro

We learned that the EPA and our FL Department of Environmental Protection will be requiring our local government to clean up our impaired three Vero Beach canals, St. Sebastian River North and South Prongs, the 54-Canal and of course our Indian River Lagoon, which receives freshwater input from these sources.  This will be very expensive and so it is wise – and much cheaper — to stop all future pollution entering our tributaries and our Lagoon.
How do we do that? What are the major pollutants currently? Personal and agricultural use and disposal of chemicals such as fertilizers, old paint, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, herbicides, cleaning fluids; human and animal waste; and trash.  How do they impact the Lagoon? During a two-year period there has been an estimated 43% loss in area covered by seagrass, which is equivalent to approximately 53 square miles.  Our fishermen are going to the south county or St. Lucie County to catch fish.  Yet, our local governments have not supported strong fertilizer ordinances, and voted down a regional seven-county effort to adapt and mitigate global warming here in our region and put us on a sustainable footing. It is essential to clean up these waters entering the Lagoon.

The County Commission, as a cost-cutting measure, got rid of nearly all citizens advisory committees, (except for a few like agriculture) generally filled with local experts.  At a time when our Lagoon is dying, our County Commission must take an immediate leadership role by reinstating a committee similar to the Marine Advisory Committee, which was eliminated, to advise them with solutions to save our fishing and tourist industries and business community. Commissioners Solari and Zorc are showing some interest and must be encouraged to lead the way.  Our Lagoon contributes $3.7 billion to the coastal economy annually.  Seagrass productivity contributes between $10-20,000 per acre per year in economic benefits.  Based on seagrass losses over the last two years our economic loss is now over $340 million annually.

The County Commission rejected participating in a plan on how to cope with Global Warming, a plan to protect our infrastructure (roads, hospitals, schools) for the next fifty years that the staffs of seven counties are putting together (hence the Seven50 plan). This plan must be explored as to its possibilities; we encourage continued discussions within the community to make it more likely we will ensure economic prosperity and the best possible quality of life for Indian River County.  As Jonathan Gorham so apply stated in the PJ, “Don’t dismiss solutions like Seven50 initiative out of hand.” We have over 15 federal, state, and local agencies looking after the Lagoon, and yet it is dying.Some problems we can solve as individuals, but some problems require us working together.

So let’s get together and solve these problems so we can restore paradise here in IRC.  Write to Commissioners Zorc and Solari and tell them that you want to encourage them and offer your help!

Pepper the dog contends with spoil island garbage. Photo: Richard Baker

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