Stop John’s Island from drilling a wastewater effluent pipe under our struggling Lagoon

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2019

PIAS praises the county commission for banning human sewage sludge (also called ‘human poop’ or, euphemistically, ‘biosolids’). This treated solid material from south Florida utilities sewer plants was being deposited on agricultural lands around Blue Cypress Lake and eventually the Lagoon, causing cyanobacteria blooms with microcystin toxin blooms at Blue Cypress Lake, initially without the public being informed.

Another product from human sewage plants is the liquid portion from human poop that has been separated from the solids, treated so as to remove some, but not all nitrogen and phosphorus, and transferred to wastewater holding tanks. This liquid waste (effluent) is undrinkable treated wastewater, still loaded with nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals and maybe fecal coliform. It is now given another euphemism word, “reuse water,” and is considered safe to apply to lawns and many of our county’s golf courses – but it is not safe to be released into our Lagoon. John’s Island (JI) development already uses City of Vero Beach effluent wastewater on their golf courses, but it is not enough for their needs. They now want more of this treated wastewater from the county as it is cheaper than using potable or clean drinking water.

John’s Island Water Management, Inc. (JIWM), JI’s own private water utility, is proposing putting a 16-inch diameter pipe 80 feet below the Lagoon bed from the County’s sewage treatment water tanks to bring this treated water to JI (See red line on the map below). They want to use a complex horizontal industrial drilling process that employs a drilling fluid, which can smother marine life such as fish, fish eggs, benthic invertebrates and seagrass if released by accident into the Lagoon. Paul Fafeita, president of the Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County (CWC), recently wrote a guest editorial in the Press-Journal, which summarizes the issue and options (https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/contributors/2019/02/18/no-johns-island-wastewater-effluent-pipe-lagoon-guest-column/2880114002/).

Our Lagoon is in very bad condition. Subjecting it to a potentially damaging drilling operation beneath the water is an unwarranted risk when there are already two underused 12-inch wastewater pipes strapped onto the Wabasso Bridge that carry wastewater across the Lagoon to the barrier island (See green line on map). The pipes continue toward A1A joined as one pipe with excess capacity. The County has already funded an engineering study to extend this pipe farther down A1A to JI (See purple line on map). There is also an irrigation pipe carrying fresh water strapped to the bridge. The cost of the proposed JI project to drill under the lagoon is nearly twice that of extending the pipe down A1A. What is the benefit for Johns Island? They are willing to fund the construction of the pipeline for about $6 million if they get first access and pay the county only 50% for water used. The County (us!) ends up paying for all future maintenance costs.

So why take an unacceptable risk to the Lagoon by drilling an expensive, unnecessary. underwater pipeline that might leak drilling fluids and risk of future breaks or leaks under the Lagoon that cannot be detected or repaired, harming marine life, and thus wasting money when surface pipes are or can be available for much less money? It doesn’t make sense!

On Tuesday, April 23rd at 9:00 am, the Indian River County Commissioners will be asked to approve a highly controversial easement to grant JIWM the right to drill under our lagoon for a pipeline bringing wastewater effluent to JI for their lands and golf courses. This risky construction is completely unnecessary given existing county infrastructure that already runs to the barrier island and poses no risk so far to our Lagoon.

If the Commissioners see that hundreds of people at the meeting oppose this action, they will consider this issue very carefully. Pelican Island Audubon Society, other environmental organizations, and prominent civic leaders will be speaking, and we ask that you and your friends attend. You do not need to speak, just come to show the commissioners your concern and watch how they vote. Commission meetings are held at the County Administration Building, Building A, 1801 27th Street, Vero Beach 32960-3388.

If you cannot attend, write to Commissioners Susan Adams (sadams@ircgov.com), Joe Flescher (jflescher@ircgov.com), Peter O’Bryan (pobryan@ircgov.com), Bob Solari (bsolari@ircgov.com), Tim Zorc (tzorc@ircgov.com) to ask them to deny this easement. You can also email a short letter up to 250 words to the Press Journal tcnletters@tcpalm.com or fill out the online form at www.tcpalm.com/submit

Finally, we also encourage you to set an example to the big land developers and their golf course managers by planting native plant species so that we do not need to use so much water for irrigation purposes. New data by Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office show that some who irrigate with reuse water, the nitrogen and phosphorus levels are as high as those who have septic tanks.

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