“Fixing The Lagoon Takes More Than Septic Tank And Muck Removal.” Well, Duh!

Two opinion pieces concerning the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and its restoration recently appeared in the Florida Today.

The first is written by new Brevard County Save Our Lagoon Citizen Oversight Committee member Susan Hammerling-Hodgers entitled We All Have A Role To Play In Saving Our Precious Indian River Lagoon. The second is written by Matt Fleming, who the Florida Today describes as “[a]ctivist Matt Fleming of Satellite Beach was the 2018 Democratic candidate for the Brevard County Commission, District 4.”

(For the record, while Fleming was on the ballot, he did not win a single precinct in the 2018 which may say a great deal as to how people regard him, his positions, and his knowledge of subjects.)

Fleming’s opinion piece is entitled “Fixing The Lagoon Takes More Than Septic Tank And Muck Removal.”

The two opinion pieces deal with the same subject, but are remarkably different in approach.

Hammerling-Hodgers’ piece deals with what the average person on the street can do.

Here are some things that everyone can do to help improve the IRL’s life and future.

1. Reduce fertilizer: Limit reclaimed water use to minimize excess nutrients flowing into the lagoon. Recommend not using fertilizer if you live close to the lagoon; and in other areas slow release fertilizers to reduce runoff. Of course, any fertilizer is banned from June to September due to the rain and runoff causing harmful algae blooms. These blooms impact the decline of seagrass and our health.

2. Lawn care: Reduce lawn area with island beds of perennials, native plants and trees to soak up storm water and require less water and fertilizer. Adding natives as a buffer minimizes clippings ending up in the lagoon. Make sure to blow lawn clippings back into the lawn where they can add nutrients to the grass.

3. Reduce chemicals: Herbicides may be a contributor to the loss of seagrass that so many animals depend on for food.

4. Reduce nutrients: Make sure not to wash your car and dogs in the driveway, to prevent chemicals and nutrients from washing into the lagoon.

5. Septic systems: If you can’t convert to sewer, inspect your system every three years and pump tank every three to five years. If septic systems are leaking or poorly maintained then nutrients, bacteria and viruses are released into the lagoon. Pathogens can cause public health issues and environmental concerns.

6. Do not flush: Dispose of properly, and do not flush, expired medication, to minimize harmful chemicals making their way to the IRL.

She goes even further into the involvement of citizens:

Many lagoon groups in Brevard County have resources related to improving the lagoon and offer volunteer opportunities. These advocacy efforts include oyster projects, planting seagrass and real-time monitoring; low-impact development to reduce stormwater impact; tracking bacterial levels; monitoring tributaries leading to the lagoon; and studying the impact of broadcast spraying of herbicides on seagrass.

With science and monitoring key with a complex system like the Indian River Lagoon, we all can contribute meaningfully to keeping Brevard’s lagoon beautiful.

Sounds very reasonable to us.

Fleming, on the other hand talks more of government involvement while demonstrating a certain ignorance on some subjects.

Fleming starts with this bit of hyperbole:

We’ve probably all heard the platitude, “It took decades for the lagoon to get this bad; it’ll take decades to fix it.”

Really? When I hear that, I think: “Well, I’ll be dead by then!”

Fleming seems to think that people can just snap their fingers and the lagoon will be restored. That’s not life. That is not science.

That is not realistic.

To prove the point, one only has to look at the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Bay was one of the projects specifically mentioned in the Clean Water Act passed by the US Congress and signed by Ronald Reagan in 1972. In 1983, actual efforts to restore the Bay began in earnest. It is clear from anyone who has followed the Bay restoration that laws, reports and oversight from other entities has slowed down efforts. However, there was a goal set for the level of nitrogen in the Bay which was supposed to be met by 2025.

The goal is not going to be met.

Do not get us wrong here. The Bay is better. The health of the Bay watershed is better than the Bay itself and both are improving. The amount of pollutants and chemicals being deposited into the Bay has dropped dramatically. All of these things are good things.

If nothing else, the Bay shows two things:
1) That restoration of large bodies of water and habitat is possible and
2) It takes decades.

One cannot snap one’s fingers or wiggle one’s nose and magically have the Chesapeake Bay or the IRL restored.

Fleming then makes a rather curious claim:

The Citizen Oversight Committee is responsible for ensuring that our local tax dollars are being spent wisely. Removing muck deposits from finger canals and getting rid of septic tanks are indeed needed projects that stem the flow of nutrients contributing to algae blooms. That work is the bulk of current lagoon plan spending, a long-term commitment, and involves repeated work processes that should be getting done by dedicated public works crews.

Instead, the county has parted that work out to private contractors on an individual-bid basis. It’s the same thing as individually purchasing a million fence boards one at a time at retail price, instead of buying a machine to make them yourself at a fraction of the price. It doesn’t take a business or science degree to understand this. Nothing in our laws requires this work to be done by private contractors.

We agree that it doesn’t take a business or science degree to understand what is happening. Fleming would have people believe that it is more expensive for the County to have vendors do jobs than the County itself.

That makes no economic sense. In order to do what Fleming wants, the County would have to spend millions and millions of dollars on dedicated equipment, hire a workforce which would be under the County Human Resources Policy which makes it difficult to fire incompetent workers (as opposed to a private entity that can dismiss a worker at will,) have the County take on the massive insurance costs of the equipment and its use, take on the maintenance of that equipment, and also pay for the retirement of the new workers.

While private companies spread out the economic burden the endure on different jobs, the County could not do that and therefore the costs would be higher.

There is a basic premise that governments should not be doing the work that private enterprise can do better, cheaper and faster, and yet that is what Fleming proposes.

Additionally, much of the plan’s spending to expand stormwater infrastructure and sewer lines is being used to help developers and local governments shed some of the costs for building new shopping centers and neighborhoods. New development, especially waterfront development, should have some kind of new matching tax to augment the lagoon plan funding. It does not.

Apparently Fleming has never heard of impact fees.

The county isn’t planning on raising taxes in this manner, and the Citizen Oversight Committee won’t even study zoning changes which would help improve the efficacy and efficiency of the lagoon plan itself.

Ah yes….there it is. Higher taxes.

Fleming has always been a proponent of higher taxes because he believes that your money belongs to the government, and you are just being kind enough to hold onto for them.

(Also, zoning changes are outside of the Oversight Committee’s Charter, but Fleming doesn’t think that laws should get in the way.)

Worst of all, the committee and the county have repeatedly rejected the idea that the Banana River and northern IRL need tidal flow restoration to correct the stagnation caused by watershed, shoreline, and infrastructure changes accumulated over decades.

This is categorically false.

Earlier in his piece, Fleming referenced the 2021 draft plan for the lagoon from the Citizen’s Oversight Committee. The final 2021 Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan Update is online and contains this:

The 2011 superbloom occurred in the Banana River Lagoon, North Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and southern Mosquito Lagoon. These areas have long residence times, which means that water in these areas stagnates and nutrients can build up leading to additional algal blooms. Options to address this condition are to increase circulation by replacing causeways with bridges, installing culverts under causeways, or increasing ocean exchange by adding culverts, pump stations, or inlets to provide new connections to the ocean. Addressing manmade causeways that interfere with natural circulation should be beneficial without unintended consequences and modeling can help prioritize actions, but implementation is costly and requires participation by the Florida Department of Transportation.

New artificial ocean exchange projects introduce a lot of unknowns. While the residence time of water in the IRL system would decrease, the input ocean water with its complement of marine life has the potential to alter the lagoon ecosystem. Whether the amount of ocean exchange needed to have a beneficial impact on the system can be achieved without causing unintended harm to the lagoon is unknown. Artificial ocean exchange projects are costly with significant social implications and permitting hurdles to overcome. For these reasons, causeway replacements are encouraged while ocean exchange projects are not a recommended component of this plan. Other entities are taking the lead on evaluating options. The results of evaluations by the St. Johns River Water Management District and the IRL National Estuary Program are summarized below.

The St. Johns River Water Management District contracted with CDM Smith and Taylor Engineering to identify potential locations where enhanced circulation projects would be beneficial. The first phase of the project (CDM Smith et al., 2014) involved a literature review and geographic information system desktop analysis. All the locations considered in Phase I, including the top ranked locations, are shown in Figure 4 29. From this first phase, ten locations were identified for future evaluation as shown in Table 4 33. The external projects are those that could potentially connect the IRL system with the Atlantic Ocean whereas internal projects are connections within the IRL (CDM Smith et al., 2015).

In short, the Oversight Committee is looking at exactly what Fleming says they are not.

Fleming also makes this charge:

Florida Institute of Technology is conducting a pilot project to determine the best way to restore these tidal flows, and their request for about a million dollars in grant funding, submitted by Rep. Thad Altman in H.B. 2197, was vetoed by the governor this year. I think some people are just afraid that it would work.

This budget item was indeed vetoed by the governor. In a time when tax revenues were down, Florida could not spend money on everything. Furthermore, once again from the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan Update:

A screening matrix was used to evaluate the costs and benefits of the project based on the criteria for the tidal prism, area affected, land acquisition, relative costs, ease of construction, seagrass loss, and benefit to cost ratio. The top ranked project from this evaluation is the Port Canaveral culvert (CDM et al., 2015). It is important to note that a culvert will likely not provide the amount of exchange needed to provide a significant benefit to the lagoon. The size of the lagoon in Brevard County is more than 150,000 acres. The second ranked project is the Canaveral Lock open channel. This option may have challenges moving forward based on past experience with sediment blocking submarines from using the port after the lock was held open for an extended period of time. In addition, there are limited data for estimating the water quality benefits and unintended ecological consequences that could result from keeping the lock open.

In 2019, the Florida Institute of Technology received $800,000 in funding from the Florida Legislature, which is administered by the Florida Department of Education, to plan and perform studies at sites within the lagoon and along the coast to restore lagoon inflow. The first phase of the study gathered baseline data and performed modeling on existing water quality, biological parameters, and hydrologic conditions at potential locations for future temporary permitted inflow test structures. The Phase 1 modeling and engineering project research was conducted in parallel with the biological and water quality monitoring to gather data for an enhanced circulation pilot project. The first phase of the project was completed in September 2020. Phase 1 provided baseline biological and geochemical data near the three proposed inflow locations: Port Canaveral and south Cocoa Beach in Brevard County and Bethel Creek in Indian River County. Modeling results were provided for different flow rates in each location based on preliminary engineering concepts for three structure options: pipe with no pump, pump and pipe, and weir. In 2020, the Florida Institute of Technology received another $800,000 in funding from the Florida Legislature, which is also administered by the Florida Department of Education, for Phase 2 of the study, which will identify the location for a temporary inflow pilot system, begin the engineering design for this location, and start the permitting process (Florida Institute of Technology, 2020). (emphasis ours)

The Florida Institute of Technology has gotten money to study this subject. While they may want more, Fleming would have people believe that the Oversight Committee has not looked at the very item he claims they have not, and that FIT has not received funding to study the issue.

If nothing else, these two opinion pieces shows the difference in regards to the lagoon.

One deals with an educated way for people to help in the restoration of the lagoon.

The other deals with uninformed opinions.

We know which one makes the most sense to us.

2 Responses to ““Fixing The Lagoon Takes More Than Septic Tank And Muck Removal.” Well, Duh!”

  1. Hometown says:

    Agreed, raising taxes is not the answer. However, platitudes like everyone should use less fertilizer don’t really cut it either. I still see city workers, lawn companies and residents spraying herbicides and pesticides in yards and along medians and sidewalks (not just my city but countywide). IMHO the problem will continue to grow as long as developers keep bringing more tourists and residents into these sensitive areas and government doesn’t create any legislative to preclude this overdevelopment. Government officials see more and more development as more tax revenue so I doubt they’ll do anything significant.

    Over”development” got a black eye so now they call it “redevelopment” and its all good. The lagoon is a fragile ecosystem and can’t take to much more of this so called redevelopment.

    I do agree with some of the ideas Matt mentions on looking harder at ways to improve water circulation. The Banana River is pretty much a stagnant pool, whatever we put in stays there. Whatever can be done to improve water exchange and flow would help offset some of the overdevelopment we’ve seen in the county.

    • AAfterwit says:


      Thank you for the comment.

      Our point is not what Matt says, but he makes it seem like no one has ever thought of what he is saying. His attack on the Oversight Committee is unwarranted in most, if not all cases.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.