New Year’s Resolutions for our County and City Governments

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2021

While many folks showed up at an Indian River County Commission to decide on a mandate to wear a face mask or not, only 4 non-staff folks showed up to hear the very important Research Review Phase of the Indian River County Lagoon Management Plan-Update 2 and what has and should be done by the county to improve Lagoon management.

This County Review provides basic information and analysis concerning the lagoon. The update focused on mangroves, spoil islands and their importance to bird populations and species of concern within the County’s portion of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL).  Removing discarded fishing line was highlighted as critically important.  Fishing line kills thousands of birds and other animals, while many birds also die from fishhooks. Animals die from ingesting lead sinkers, which also contaminates the water. 

We urge the county and our city governments to consider these very critical resolutions to save our Lagoon in 2021:

#1. Health and Tourist Problem: Boaters and campers are leaving trash and human poop with much toilet paper, thereby degrading our Lagoon Recreational and Conservation Spoil Islands: see DSC_3681.jpg.  Solution:  

  • For maximum control, require camping permits as is done in many national parks. and BLM backcountry areas. Regulation  and educational pamphlets are distributed to permit holders who are required to carry out all refuse, including their human waste.
  • Encourage the IRL Aquatic Preserves to install porta potties on the most used recreational spoil islands as in the Everglades, and have a weekly inspection and sewage removal in consultation with the County Health Dept.
  • Install Signs on the islands to remind visitors about the rules of leaving no trace.
  • Regular monitoring by water rangers and volunteers  to educate  the public about the rules.

#2Decrease the amount of stormwater permitted to leave suburban developments and institute a tighter low-impact development policy.

#3. Initiate 21st Century wastewater treatment options that produce usable biproducts from our human waste: potable water, , transportable N & P, fertilizer, electricity and no biosolidsStop sending human waste, poop (called by some “biosolids) to our county dump. 

#4. Require all cities’ septic tanks to attach via the hybrid system to existing sewage pipes.  Require a certification of septic tank cleaning every 3 years for everyone not on sewer system.  Septic Tanks are nothing but glorified outhouses.

#5. Require and enforce no turf grass within 10 ft of all ponds and seawalls, and only place native plants and trees along the edge both in and out of the water.  Install islands as refuges for wildlife in large development ponds. These would be attractive to residents and enhance their quality of life.

#6 Support the 0.10 millage increase in ad valorem rates for the St. Johns River Water Management District to help restore our Lagoon, which will cost $4.6 billion. 

#7. Stop chemical spraying in our canals. More and more research data show that the chemicals are harmful to humans and wildlife. Use hand cutting and mechanical harvesting methods (which will employ citizens and reduce health costs from toxic sprays).  Recover the cut weeds; do not allow them to contribute to the much and the P and N loads in The St. Sebastian River and IRL.

Audubon Advocates watching and photographing Sandhill Cranes back in the days when the levees were well managed.

 #8. Restore the West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility Wetlands at 8405 8th St. and rename it Indian River County Wetlands Park. Restore it to be bird and birder-friendly site that has brought in many tourist dollars and visitors to our county. People from out of state and around Florida came to the wetlands to easily view and photograph 170+ bird species that comprise the real Florida’s amazing wildlife.  No longer.  Apparently, due to treated water release into the adjacent canals during heavy rainfalls and  getting money for reuse water to water turf lawns and golf courses, the wetlands have been generally abandoned.  The wastewater is put through the treatment plant directly where only chemical cleaning of the water is mostly done instead of having the water flow through the beautifully created wetlands that cleaned the water as well as providing outstanding habitat for native wildlife and birds. This recreational facility serves not only for wildlife viewing but for exercise and peaceful meditation too. Rare Snail Kites, rails, and other water birds had made it their home.

Abandoned levees full of tall plants and fire ants.

Since the ponds are now overgrown with cattails, bulrush, exotic water hyacinth and other invasive plants and the levees are not mowed and full of fire ants, making easy walking and exercise impossible (see photos) and difficult to see the birds and wildlife, and safely walk the levees, our 5th grade Audubon Advocates and adult field trips have been cancelled. The county has abdicated its responsibility in maintaining this location for visitors and is wasting an opportunity to develop the site into a world-class nature attraction as have other nearby counties (see below).

Abandoned boardwalk at the Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Additional land has been purchased by the county south of this facility but is not discussed in much detail in the report. A major tourist attraction could be designed and built linking the expanded lands and revitalization of the existing wetlands. This would attract nature enthusiasts worldwide and provide an economic boost to the western county.  The nearly 300 acres south of the facilities could be used to handle any excess storm and treated water.  Outstanding examples of the contributions to their communities are Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Palm Beach County, Viera South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility in Brevard County, and Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Alachua County.  These multi-use sites demonstrate how to handle stormwater and clean wastewater while providing recreation and education for the visiting public. Our county needs some vision and leadership to make this happen here.

#9. Update our landscape and tree ordinances to allow only 50% or less turf grass and stop clear cutting new homesites of all trees.  Turf is our most irrigated, non-native invasive crop in U.S. – 3X more acreage than corn!  No one eats it! Primary purpose is to makes us look and feel good!  Per year, the American lawn uses 800 million gallons of gas for lawn equipment, emits 41 Billion lbs. CO2 from blowers & mowers, produces 13 billion lbs. of toxic & carcinogenic air pollutants, 100 million lbs. of pernicious lawn chemicals & fertilizers, and $45 billion in Lawn Care. It is cheaper to pay people not to have a lawn which would benefit our native wildlife (see below).

#10. Establish a “Turf-Swap” Program.  Copy Alachua County’s “Turf Swap” program where they offer a 50% rebate up to $1,500 to SWAP out a portion of homeowners irrigated turf and replace it with water-conserving Florida Friendly Landscaping to reduce outdoor water use in existing landscapes. In Florida, 64% of drinking water goes to irrigation (In summer 88%). 

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