Water quality: It’s complicated

Local Florida kayakers get a visit from an aggregation of manatees.

Wow! The manatees are starving to death because I use fertilizer? How can

that be?

Well, it’s complicated. The nutrients in the fertilizer (and many other sources including septic tanks and leaking sewage lines) flow into the lagoon, where they feed algae growth. The algae blooms block the sun so the seagrass dies. Seagrass is the manatees’ main food, so they starve. Sad. To fix it means cleaning up the water so the algae stops and the seagrass returns.

South Florida has lots of people, and they all poop. The sludge from its treatment needs to be put somewhere. As these biosolids increased locally, they helped cause algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee. So, the Legislature outlawed dumping in South Florida, and we got it here.

The resulting phosphorus started causing blooms in Blue Cypress Lake and Lake Washington, the source of our drinking water. The Brevard County Commission established a temporary ban in 2019, but biosolids remain a problem.

The Indian River Lagoon is an estuary, not a river, so it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, but not very quickly. With no ocean connection from the north to the Sebastian Inlet, 80 miles south, the flow travel time is more than a year. It’s not just a long way, there are numerous causeways that retard the flow and trap the nutrients.

Some people advocate creating a connection to the ocean to let the tide help move the water. Again, it’s complicated. Doing this would likely make the estuary saltier and change the ecology. Even getting and permitting land for the cut would be a huge challenge.

It would be great if these issues were simple. They’re not, but we are fortunate to have our science-based Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan that is working to solve these complex problems. VV

Visit brevardfl.gov/SaveOurLagoon/CitizenOversightCommittee for details and get involved by visiting HelpTheLagoon.org.