Some positive environmental ‘happenings’ as we start 2019

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2019

For 50 years, we have watched our county environment deteriorate. However, since then, PIAS and county voters made some progress by passing two bond issues one in 1992 for $26 million, and one in 2004 for $50 million.  The county used matching funds from the state’s Amendment 1 funds to purchase 9,703 acres of county conservation lands, which are now protected forever.  However, poor water quality in the county is an issue that remains unsolved, with our waters suffering from the loss of seagrasses, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, red tide on our beaches, and biosolids dumping near pristine Blue Cypress Lake causing cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) blooms. Besides being unsightly, the red tide killed thousands of marine fishes and affected human health and economies.   The cyanobacteria bloom produced an airborne microcystin toxin that is implicated in ALS (Lou Gehrig Disease), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.  Added to these problems, the county experienced record high temperatures attributed to climate change.

American Bittern by Richard Baker.

There is now some hope as:1) our new Governor, Ron DeSantis, signed Executive Order 19-12 (Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment) to ensure the protection of Florida’s environment and water quality.  He is making changes in our Water Management Districts and governmental departments and agencies, which should help our environment.  PIAS urges the Governor to release Amendment 1 funds so that counties may obtain matching funds to preserve our lands. Please write the Governor to encourage him in continuing his environmental efforts and to ask him to release $300million/year for purchasing conservation lands as intended by Amendment 1.

2) The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently suspended spraying Roundup (glyphosate) into our waters, which kills all plants, not just invasives, causing them to rot into a thick muck on the bottom.  Glyphosate is also the most widely used herbicide employed by landscapers and by farmers, especially on genetically modified agriculture crops that are resistant to it.  It is now found in soy, corn and corn oil, canola seeds, beets, almonds, dried peas, carrots, quinoa, and meat.  You can also enjoy it in some of your oat cereals! But Florida must ban it totally as we have so few insects that are vital to our survival—like the bees that are dying.  Bees pollinate 80% of our fruit and vegetables we eat.

Researchers are studying whether Glyphosate might also be causing our cyanobacteria/ blue green algae blooms and possible human cancer.  A California jury ordered Monsanto, which makes the chemical, to pay a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer $289 million, later reduced to $78m.  France is trying to eliminate its use totally by 2021.

In Sebastian, Dr. Graham Cox, a PIAS board member, with his neighbors, is trying to stop the City of Sebastian from spraying glyphosate on its canals for weed control proposing instead to use mechanical or other non-toxic means to stop the chemical going into the lagoon and water bodies.  This chemical may be like DDT, which initially seemed not to affect human health.  It was used to stop many insects from spreading human diseases like malaria and saved millions of lives; it was also used widely in agriculture.  One crop of cotton was sprayed over 11 times. These large applications resulted in DDT entering our waters, insects, and fishes, which caused the thinning and breaking of eggshells of many bird species including eagles and osprey. With such widespread use, the target insects became resistant to DDT, and it was not useful any more.  With the DDT ban, some of these species are increasing, although DDT is still being used in some countries to control malaria.

3) Since south Florida and the lands around Lake Okeechobee banned spreading of human biosolids (human sewage sludge), sewage utilities in south Florida started paying farmers in central and north Florida to spread it on their fields at 77 different sites.  This includes, four in our county (according to a DEP map). The County Commission under the leadership of Commissioner Bob Solari, voted to ban the dumping for 6 months and is working on a total ban. In other good news, our County Commissions also voted 4 to 1 to also stop the dredge-and-fill project at Oslo Road, thanks to the help of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA).

4) We are impressed with what the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition has done in a short period: After a six-month information campaign, the Brevard voters overwhelming approved a half-cent sales tax that will yield $400 million over ten years. In 2018, Coalition members rallied the community to support a Septic System Ordinance requiring any new septic systems to feature advanced treatment, reducing nitrogen going into waterways by 65-80%, passed by a unanimous vote of the County Commission. 

5) With these successes, the CCA, Indian River Neighborhood Association, and PIAS formed a group called the Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County (CWC), an independent, unifying voice to protect and restore the county’s surface and ground waters. It aims to connect and coordinate with community partners to maximize efforts toward a shared vision. The CWC envisions complete restoration of healthy surface waters and an ecosystem teeming with diverse fish and wildlife: a place where we can take our families to swim, fish, and recreate without fear of infection, and be assured of a plentiful supply of clean safe drinking water for current and future generations.
The coalition has five key initiatives:

CWC held its first public meeting on Jan 17th with about 175 people attending.  There are now 36 partners in the coalition: About Bethel Creek, Advantage Marine, Coastal Conservation Association, Dragon Fly Boat Mfg., Environmental Learning Center, Estuarine Coastal & Ocean Science, Fairlane Harbor HOA, Friends of St. Sebastian River, Grand Harbor SunTex Marine, Indian River Air Boat Club, Indian River County Historical Society, Indian River Neighborhood Assoc., Marine Bank & Trust, Marine Connection, Maverick Boats, Moorings Yacht & Country Club, Northern Trust Bank, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Quail Valley River Club, Reef Ocean Resort, Rotary Club of Sebastian, Rotary Club of Vero Beach, Schlitt Coldwell Banker Paradise Realtors, Seas up Go Paddle, Social Justice Steering Cmte. of UUFVB, Surlaterre Landscape Architecture, The Driftwood Resort, Waldo’s, Vero Beach City Marina, Vero Beach Power Squadron, Vero Beach Rowing Inc., Vero Beach Tackle, Vero Beach Yacht Club, Vero Marine Center, Vero’s Voice, Walking Tree Brewery, Youth Sailing Foundation of IRC, Inc. 

Those who have similar interest in our clean water, join us! This will give the CWC a lot of clout when it appears before the county commission and city councils to get a clean water issue changed or approved.

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