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10-year plan to clean up the lagoon approved by the EPA


The Indian River Lagoon Council's 10-year roadmap for restoring the ailing 156-mile-long estuary to good health has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The comprehensive conservation and management plan put together over the past year or so now has the official green light to engage all 38 cities, five counties, and some 1.6 million residents along the lagoon to reduce pollution flowing into the waterway and begin to get rid of contaminants and sediment, including heavy loads of nitrogen and phosphorus that feed destructive algae blooms.

The Lagoon Council’s $2.25 million annual budget comes from the EPA, the five member counties, and state water management and environmental agencies.

Currently, the council is backing more than 50 projects along the lagoon to treat wastewater and stormwater, restore habitats on land and in the estuary, and convert septic tanks to sewer hookups.  

Nine lagoon-enhancing projects completed recently were showcased at the meeting, including phase two of Indian River County's West Wabasso septic-to-sewer conversion. 

County utilities director Vincent Burke told the council more than 50 homes and commercial businesses west of 58th Avenue near route 510 with old, broken, leaky septic tanks have been connected to the county sewer system in the past year. 

The project cost $1.7 million, with $200,000 contributed by the council.  Burke said the improvements would increase property values in a very "economically depressed" area and reduce the discharge of wastes into groundwater that eventually flows into the lagoon.

Meanwhile, the council is sifting through a "wish list" of nearly 500 lagoon-related projects submitted by cities, counties, towns, water managers, parks and universities totaling $2.6 billion, evaluating which ones are "shovel-ready or near shovel-ready," Council Executive Director Dr. Duane DeFreese told the gathering.

"The focus needs to be reducing nutrients and pollutants at the source and where we have legacy loads like muck," DeFreese said.

"The key here is that we need to have resolve.  We need to invest. It's going to take a decade and beyond to invest in a healthy system."