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County, Shores and Vero get $5 million for lagoon projects

STORY BY SUE COCKING (Week of March 4, 2021)

Indian River County, Vero Beach and Indian River Shores have just received a total of more than $5 million from St. Johns River Water Management District to help pay for projects to restore the ecology of Indian River Lagoon in this area.

The county is getting $1.25 million toward its planned $5.5 million construction of the Moorhen Marsh low-energy aquatic plant system which uses water lettuce – a common type of floating freshwater vegetation – to filter more than 4,800 pounds of nitrogen and 785 pounds of phosphorus per year from the North Relief Canal before the nutrients are discharged into the lagoon.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are the primary culprits feeding harmful algae blooms in the waterway.

The county will receive another $1.25 million – nearly the entire price tag – for its phase three septic-to-sewer conversion project in the West Wabasso neighborhood. And that’s not all – it is getting another $800,000 to help pay for phase two of a septic-to-sewer project in North Sebastian and a separate conversion along Sebastian's Roseland Road.

The city of Vero Beach is set to receive $1.5 million from the water management agency to repurpose part of its water treatment plant to treat up to 3 million gallons of stormwater per day. The treated runoff from lawns and roads will be used for irrigation instead of being dumped straight into the lagoon. 

City water and sewer director Rob Bolton estimates the new plant will keep some 9,700 pounds of nitrogen and 1,500 pounds of phosphorus per year out of the waterway. The city's cost share is $500,000 of the $2 million project.

The Town of Indian River Shores got money, too – $234,000 that will foot the entire bill for the town’s stormwater treatment project in the neighborhood of Indian Lane and Seminole Lane.

According to project engineers MBV Engineering, the project “will not only reduce flooding during rain events but will also provide increased pre-treatment of the water, reducing the total nitrogen, total phosphorus and sedimentation entering the Indian River Lagoon.”

These grants are among more than 30 awarded to communities, nonprofits and universities for lagoon restoration projects from a $25 million appropriation adopted last year by the Florida Legislature.     

Meanwhile, the Indian River Lagoon Council ranked 10 projects throughout the lagoon’s five counties for receiving a share of about $1 million in grant funds it is disbursing.

The Indian River Land Trust, the local nonprofit conservation group that buys lagoon-front land to keep it from development, is set to receive more than $60,000 from the council.

The money would pay about half the cost of the second year of the Land Trust’s community-based project to modify mosquito ditches along the estuary to allow juvenile snook and tarpon to swim in and out, mixing with adult populations and improving fish stocks.