For years the water quality within the Indian River Lagoon has been the subject of concern for scientists and residents alike. Between brown algae blooms and hurricane related sewage leaks, our waterways are under duress. Though there have been temporary fixes or “easy” solutions proposed, we believe it’s time for our community to consider some more drastic measures to protect the beauty and sustainability of our lagoon.   

 

What’s the Problem?

The Indian River Lagoon is technically a 156 mile long estuary. As home to more than 2000 species of plants, 600 species of fish, and 300 species of birds, the IRL is a complex and diverse ecosystem that requires balance to retain its beauty. Pollution is a major culprit for throwing off that balance, and not in the ways you might suspect. 

Yes, we all know that plastics and other trash have no place in the natural environment. But nutrients from discarded plant matter and waste (e.g. weed clippings, dog droppings, septic field substances) that flow into the lagoon from inland sources create a disruption in the lagoon’s ecosystem as well. Brown algae, or “brown tide”, feeds off this type of waste, and a brown tide bloom occurs when there’s an overabundance of waste-induced nutrients in the water.  Brown tide does two very harmful things: it leaches oxygen from the water, causing massive fish kills, and it blocks sunlight from underwater sea grasses, which then cannot produce more oxygen for that water. In addition, the waste products accumulate at the bottom of the lagoon, creating muck that kills the bottom dwelling plant life, adds to the brown algae, and thus perpetuates the vicious cycle of destruction.

This combination of brown algae, bottom muck, and general pollutants is the Indian River Lagoon’s current reality. The situation is dire. It affects our community now, and will only compound in the future unless action is taken.

 

What’s the Solution?  

Environmentalists and community activists have been posing ideas to help the Indian River Lagoon basically since the coast was colonized. Some of these solutions have been set into motion, while others have been met with a barrage of bureaucratic red tape. 

The dredging and removal of muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon is one clean-up effort that began decades ago and continues today. According to the Florida Institute of Technology, over 2 million cubic yards of muck was removed just in the first 10 years of the initiative which began in 1996. Muck dredging is no small chore, though, since scientists estimate the sludgy substance to be 10 feet deep in certain areas. 

According to experts, stopping the pollution of the Indian River Lagoon must begin at its source. Researching various means of waste management has resulted in solutions such as the recent septic system ban, a temporary measure intended to curb future issues. County officials have also instituted various seasonal fertilizer bans with the desire to eliminate one source of harmful, nitrogen-rich runoff into the estuary. 

 

What’s a Better Solution? 

But temporary measures and seasonal bans simply aren’t cutting it. Each passing year continues to bring additional problems within our beautiful waterways. Sea turtles are developing tumors. Manatees suffer from a lack of sea grass. Algae multiplies to such incredible levels that it can be seen from space. Something more must be done. 

And more aggressive measures do exist. Years ago environmental engineers proposed a pipeline system designed to basically flush the Indian River Lagoon with water from the Atlantic Ocean. A similar system is currently in place in Destin, where a pump moves water from the Gulf past a barrier island and into the harbor. With this system in place, the harbor water is renewed every 17 days. Imagine the impact a system like that could have on our community’s lagoon!

Other scientists propose the creation of a new inlet, possibly near Patrick Air Force Base. Inlets obviously create additional water flow, allowing pollutants to escape and ocean water to wash the lagoon “clean”. Similar to the pump system, the inlet solution helps to renew the IRL, ridding it of harmful substances before they have a chance to create compounded disastrous effects. A new inlet is not the cheapest solution, that much is sure. But when the quality of our water—the quality of our life—is at stake, should the project’s price tag really be the main concern?  

The motto “dilution is the solution to pollution” is nice in theory. In reality, dilution is a management technique to deal with the effects of harmful substances in a natural environment such as our Indian River Lagoon. Proposing more proactive measures of cleanup doesn’t take away individuals’ responsibility. 

As residents of this county, it’s our duty to protect the waterway that surrounds our homes. Sometimes that means changing our lifestyle, other times it means taking a stand. Where do you stand on the Save Our Lagoon issue? Do you approve of more aggressive measures, such as a new inlet or pump system? As we’ve mentioned before, our team is highly invested in this community, which means we care about what happens both in and around it. Let us know what you think about this important community issue in the comments below.