Can we flush the Indian River Lagoon clean?

The short answer is no. Flushing would take huge amounts of seawater, and that could destroy life in the lagoon. It would export lots of pollution to the ocean. It’s not realistic.

However, scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology have been working on an idea for injecting limited amounts of ocean water into the lagoon to help clean up the pollution. They just received $920,000 from the Florida Legislature to begin work on a pilot project to test this approach.

The plan is based on recent discoveries about the chemistry of the lagoon.

The lagoon is polluted by too much total nitrogen (TN) and total potassium (PT) that acts like fertilizer for algae blooms. The lagoon’s water often has very little (or no) dissolved oxygen. It turns out that the TN and TP actually decrease when the bottom water has higher dissolved oxygen (and increase when it doesn’t). The reason is that the microbes in the bottom sand can convert TN into nitrogen gas (which bubbles off) and can bind TP into the sand if there is oxygen. When there is no oxygen, TP will be released from the sand bottom.

Now, back to injecting ocean water. The ocean water flowing into the lagoon has good oxygen levels, so it should stimulate the microbes which should decrease the pollution. This process has been documented and now Florida Tech is preparing to test this in a pilot project near Port Canaveral.

The state funds will be used this year and next to design, permit and begin monitoring at the Port Canaveral site for the construction of the Indian River Lagoon In-Flow pilot project, which hopefully will begin operation in 2024.

The Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan has already completed 75 pollution reducing projects and has some 300 more in the pipeline. Having the Indian River Lagoon waters themselves helping to reduce pollution would be a great help. Thank goodness for the diligence of the Florida Tech researchers.

Ain't science great? 

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