Posted on November 13, 2023
The county is firmly committed to following the science to determine the best strategy to facilitate the Indian River Lagoon’s recovery. Science says muck dredging is a critical part of the strategy to heal the lagoon.
The Florida Legislature was convinced in 2014 after hearing scientific testimony and awarded $20 million for muck removal projects to be conducted by Brevard County and St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). The Legislature continues to support muck removal projects.
At the same time the Legislature awarded funds for muck dredging, our lawmakers also directed funds for scientists with the Indian River Lagoon Research Initiative at Florida Institute of Technology to research the impact of muck on lagoon health and measure the benefits of environmental dredging. This peer-reviewed research confirmed the importance of muck removal, studied sources of muck, experimented with dredging techniques and documented environmental benefits of the first environmental dredging project completed by Brevard County near the mouth of Turkey Creek. Their key findings and final research reports are posted at https://www.fit.edu/indian-river-lagoon/.
Environmental dredging, unlike navigation dredging, removes accumulations of muck from the lagoon down to the sand. Where big muck dredging projects have been completed, water quality improves for miles nearby.
Included here are graphs of the results for two completed large-scale muck removal projects.
The first graph is for Turkey Creek. Looking at monthly water quality samples collected by SJRWMD, dredging reduced turbidity by almost 30%. That means more sunlight can reach the depth of seagrass beds.
The second graph is for the Eau Gallie River dredging that was done by SJRWMD.
Using satellite imagery, algal bloom intensity was mapped and measured before and after dredging. Dredging reduced blooms in the Indian River near the Eau Gallie River by almost 75%. Oxygen levels in the water are also improved by dredging. Boaters and fishermen report improved water clarity and fishing, as well as more frequent sightings of dolphin and shorebirds. One neighbor to a muck removal project reported catching a grand slam off their dock after years of seeing no fish.
While dredging is critical, it is only part of the strategy to heal the lagoon. Nearly 60% of the Save Our Indian River Lagoon tax is allocated to projects that reduce the amount of pollution going into the lagoon while 36% is allocated to remove historical pollution that is already in the lagoon and accumulated in muck deposits. The remaining 4% is split about evenly between restoring natural filtration systems and measuring the performance of projects to inform future project selection.
Data shows that pollution released from decaying muck has grown over the decades to be the single biggest source of nutrients feeding algae blooms in the lagoon. We must stop new pollution and we must remove muck, or the lagoon will stay polluted.
So far, the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Program has worked with cities and other community partners to complete 82 projects that reduce pollution going into the lagoon, remove pollution from the lagoon, or restore natural filtration systems within the lagoon. There are 26 projects under construction and 46 more in design or permitting.
The sewer pipes of over 41,000 homes were tested for leaks. Of the 1,211 deficiencies found, 906 have been repaired so far. In addition to thousands of homes that will be connected to sewer once new sewer lines are installed, 144 individual homes have connected to existing sewer lines and 212 homes have replaced their old septic systems with advanced, nitrogen reducing systems.
Depending on where you are in the lagoon, we have achieved 20% to 50% of the targeted load reductions for that area. When the projects that are under construction plus the ones in design and permitting are done, we will have achieved about 70% of the targeted load reductions. These load reduction targets were set by state scientists and approved by federal scientists. The work to undo decades of excess pollution is not a sprint; it is a marathon. We have miles to go but hope is on the horizon. Most algae blooms are shorter in duration now compared to 2016 and seagrasses are beginning to recover in some areas.
While Brevard County, municipalities and other agencies work on completing large-scale projects, everyone can help the lagoon heal by decreasing the sources of pollution at home and at work. These include reducing use of fertilizer and other lawn chemicals, removing grass clippings from paved surfaces, reducing excess irrigation, picking up pet waste, upgrading and maintaining septic systems, repairing leaky sewer pipes and reducing car emissions.
For tips and tricks to reduce pollution at home, please visit LagoonLoyal.com.