The Brevard County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 3 at the Viera government Complex to consider a proposed increase in the storm water utilities. All affected property owners are invited to voice their opinions at this meeting.
Recently, a member of the Brevard Co. Citizens Coalition contacted Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management, and asked for his assessment of the proposed fee increase. Mr. Brown’s reply was distributed to a small number of people that kept growing with every response. Although I used specific comments from some emails, I left others emails intact as it was too difficult to break down on such an intense subject.
I want to thank everyone that contributed their comments and questions. You all expressed opinions and facts much better than I ever could. Hopefully it will give the readers a better understanding of the problems we are facing and whether or not they feel the proposed increase in storm water fees is necessary.
Ernie Brown, Brevard County Director of Natural Resources
I am giving you a data dump of information that hopefully will be useful to provide the technical detail to support our conversation. Most of the answers to the questions raised are provided in published documents that I have either attached or provided links too.
One of key points brought up was that this is a multifaceted problem that will require a multifaceted solution. It is also helpful to understand where we have been to know where we are going. So with that, If I may, I would like to provide a bit of history and our possible way forward.
In 1991, Brevard County implemented the Stormwater Utility program and fee to address water quality improvements and flood mitigation projects within the unincorporated County. Since that time, these resources have been dedicated to constructing more than 450 projects across the County to address the priority water quality and flooding problems. None of these funds are used to maintain the ditch systems but rather they were specifically allocated to water quality and flooding issues.
It has been recognized by many in the scientific and aquaculture community that declines in water quality of the Indian River Lagoon have been occurring for decades. However, as you may recall, beginning in 2011, significant declines in the Indian River Lagoon system became overtly obvious. This included unprecedented algal blooms, 60 percent loss of sea grass beds, hundreds of dolphin, pelican and manatee deaths far above what is normal, and impacts to water dependent industries from Volusia County to St Lucie. This included the recreational fishing guides, commercial fisheries (Crabs, Clams, Oysters, etc.) and ecotourism. As the Indian River Lagoon is the nursery ground for 100’s of commercial fish species harvested all along the United States’ east coast, the long-term impact to our seafood industry is still unknown.
In Brevard alone, there are over 1500 stormwater outfalls that discharge to the Indian River Lagoon. Of these outfalls, 669 are in Cities and approximately 874 are the responsibility of the unincorporated County. These outfalls are the primary points where all the water runoff coming from our yards, roads and parking lots dump into the lagoon. Unfortunately only 11% of County outfalls have been retrofit with some sort of treatment… that means that almost 90% of these outfalls are delivering untreated stormwater pollution directly to the Lagoon. Treating these outfalls will require a variety of solutions but all solutions involve either reducing the inputs before they get to the outfall or removing them once they get there. The County’s Restoration Strategy for the Indian River Lagoon is pretty straight forward, but implementation requires resources and commitment.
Should the Board approve the proposed increase, these funds will be directly applied toward efforts to restore the Indian River Lagoon. Below is an overview of how these funds will be applied using proven technologies and programs to provide results by reducing future pollution; removing existing pollution; and restoring the ecosystem; all of which will be guided by the best available research:
• Target Priority Retrofit Projects (Reduce)
– Install treatment systems on untreated discharges
– Re-divert freshwater back to the St Johns River
– Harvest Aquatic weeds
• Maintain & Improve Existing Infrastructure (Reduce)
– Increase street sweeping & baffle box maintenance
– Engage the community in solutions
• Assist State & Federal Partners to Remove Muck (Remove)
• Expand Filtration Restoration Programs (Restore)
–Continue Oyster Gardening program
– Construct / restore oyster reefs, clam beds & living shorelines
• Foster Action-based Research (Research)
While this is only one part of the larger, multi-agency effort to restore the lagoon, these are actions that can be taken locally to directly reduce the discharges to the lagoon that we all play a role in creating. Other efforts such as dredging the detrimental Muck from the lagoon will take a much larger effort. I have attached a brief overview of the Restoration Strategy and how these resources, if approved could be applied to that outcome.
The assessment currently collects around $3.3 Million per year and for more than a decade funds were set aside in savings until there was enough to fund larger projects. To date over 450 projects have been constructed county-wide for both flood control and water quality. We have also been able to leverage as much as 50:50 grant dollars for our projects but that is becoming increasingly difficult without the available match.
Additionally, some of these resources and a lot of staff time are dedicated to meet the Federal and State Water Quality mandates.I have also attached the Financial Condition Audit (2012) which details our stewardship of these resources.
Over the last 2 years approximately $13 Million has been expended on stormwater projects. Much of this is from savings accumulated over previous years. This savings will be depleted once the highlighted projects are completed next year. I have attached a project spread sheet that highlights projects completed or underway since 2012. I would also recommend that you visit the Stormwater Project Atlas by going to the following link: www.brevardcounty.us/NaturalResources/Watershed/ConstructionProjects
This site details costs, location and benefit of all the projects constructed to date.
Regarding proposed projects, as discussed above, wehave approximately 90% of our 874 outfalls that that require retrofit. The exact type of retrofit will need to be designed to each outfall. It became clear to us that it was imprudent to spend several $100,000 of diminishing funds on master planning and preliminary design for projects that are not funded when we still have priority projects to put in the ground. We do know that this will be required but not while we still have critical projects to fund with limited resources. We also know that the state mandated cleanup targets cost will greatly exceed the County’s ability to obtain direct revenue over the next 20 years depending on new technology. It is our hope that we will continue to be able to leverage grant funding for these efforts. There is more information on this issue in the Financial Conditions Report.
You also asked about the documentation to support that water quality has declined due to runoff. While there are multiple studies completed that document the impact of nonpoint source pollution (of which stormwater is a primary element) significantly contribute to the nutrient lading to the Indian River Lagoon. This was ratified in a regulatory mandate to reduce nutrient inputs from stormwater in the Total Maximum Daily Load established for the Lagoon I have attached the link if you wanted to review the document. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/tmdl/docs/tmdls/final/gp5/indian-banana-nutrient-do-tmdl.pdf
We know the nutrient reductions required by basin and we know the types of outfalls. We also know the average costs per pound of Nitrogen removed so we are able to provide reasonable estimate ranges for each outfall requiring retrofit treatment. These factors are based on the Nutrient reductions required per the TMDL. The proposed increase and resulting revenues would be directly applied to projects and programs to meet the mandates and improve water quality in the Indian River lagoon. The proposal does not increase funding for administrative costs or staffing within the Stormwater Program.
I am also providing the link to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (located at the end of this article) which connects you to the Basin Management Action Plans for the Indian River lagoon. There are 3 plans one for the Banana, the Central Lagoon and the Northern Lagoon all of which outline the required actions/projects to be completed to meet the TMDL nutrient reduction mandates. It should be noted that these only list the projects required for the first 5 years of a 15 year mandated restoration.
Without question, this proposed fee increase is driven by the State and Federal Mandates listed above, but the projects will be tailored to ensure that the most efficient and effective nutrient reduction efforts are implemented to improve the water quality of the Lagoon. This proposal will ensure that we are able to meet today’s State and Federal Mandates while still making progress towards restoring the Lagoon.
Please feel free to call me after you have had the opportunity to review the enclosed information and I will make myself available to answer any additional questions you may have or any of the questions that still remain unanswered.
Respectfully, Ernest N. Brown Director, Natural Resources Management Department
A chain reaction of questions and comments
? When there was a massive seagrass die off in the Mosquito Lagoon located in far north Brevard, there were no riverfront homes, little development, few septic tanks, little runoff. What killed those grasses?
• Mr. Brown did not claim these toxic outbreaks are caused by the nutrient loads flowing into the lagoon. That said, it is logical that algae blooms are feeding on nutrients, whether these nutrients are just part of the lagoon system (Mosquito Lagoon quite far from human outflow), or promoted by inflows from roads and ditches.
• Last summer a marine biologist stated that the lagoon was suffering from algae blooms which were toxic to sea grasses and was also affecting manatees, dolphins and other species. She indicated, that although these outbreaks are intense, they have occurred before. They are natural events and we have seen them before. Research is ongoing to understand what triggers them.
? What if the money is being spent fighting the wrong problem?
• Through the 1980’s we had direct discharge of treated sewage water into the Indian River. We have plenty of septic tanks and few if any retention areas. One area not being looked at is leaking sewer lines. Old lines can leak as much if not more than septic tanks, but regardless, I don’t think that’s the issue.
• In 1993 we had about 1,000 or so manatees statewide. Now there are over 3,000. Not only have numbers greatly increased in the Indian River, they no longer have a need to migrate. They chow down all year, yet I expect seagrass does not grow all year.
• In 1995 Patrick Rose of the Save the Manatee Organization was asked what was the carrying capacity of the Indian River for manatees? A rancher can tell you how many acres of grass is needed for a cow or a horse to avoid having the pasture eaten down to dirt. The State and SMC refused to do the math on manatees, even though it is known how much they eat per day and what square footage of grass would correspond to that mass of seagrass.
• We can chase fertilizers and runoff all day long, neither were present in North Brevard and there was a massive grass die off in the Mosquito Lagoon.
? What would happen to all grant money if it were determined that the source of most of the fecal coliform in the IRL was sea birds and the over population of Manatee ? What would all the “researchers” and inspectors do to justify their existence ?
• This was exactly what took place at the Marina Del Rey in California back in the 1980s. This of course after every Marina had the shoulder the burden of installing waste pump out station for the boats, state Public employees were hired to inspect the pump out stations, holding tanks on boats, researchers standing shoulder to shoulder researching everything in the marina . . . on infinitum. After every man made source was buttoned down making absolutely no difference in the level of fecal coliform pollution, it was determined the source to be birds and sea lions. . . . does this sound familiar?
Bob Atkins, President of Citizens for Florida Waterways Weighs In
I appreciate your inclusion by reference of the Citizens For Florida’s Waterways (CFFW) into the discussion. Many of you on distribution know our organization and some of you know me personally from my years of activism in support of replacing anecdotal, seemingly intuitive, financially influenced and politically based manatee management decisions with true scientific discovery resulting in developing, understanding and implementing true conservation measures for Manatee management. In the early 90′s, I was appointed by Commissioner Truman Scarborough to the Brevard County ad hoc Committee to develop the Brevard County Manatee Protection Plan. I am a Founding Member, long term Member of the Board of Directors and current President of Citizen’s for Florida’s Waterways. More importantly, I have been an active seated member of the Manatee Forum which is jointly sponsored by Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
I would like to make two points for your consideration.
1) Your assessment of the condition of the Indian River overlooks the artificial thermal influence of the Power Plant discharges throughout the Lagoon. We contend that while these outflows were federally mandated to be eliminated by the Clean Water Act of 1974, both the Florida and Federal agencies responsible for manatee management approved variances, moreover mandates, that these outflows of thermal pollution be maintained to provide protection of manatees from cold stress and potential death.
Because of this designation of thermal pollution outsources, combined with the critically flawed “more is better” manatee management approach, we no longer have a small herd of migratory manatees, but a significantly larger and ever increasing non-migratory herd that is probably larger than ever in the natural history of the IRL.
This decision to demand thermal pollution, contrary to the Federal Clean water Act, has had significant unintended consequences.
2) Even though the questions of manatee carrying capacity were originally raised by many of us in the 80′s, the focus of the agencies has always been to deliver the species from, what was then and is today, a false threat of immediate extinction. We, specifically FWC and FWS, have yet to determine the carrying capacity of the IRL with respect to manatees. Our current crisis is a combination of seagrass loss, high nutrient (specifically nitrogen and phosphorous) concentrations, increasing amounts of muck and lately significant algae blooms which have further impacted the ability of the lagoon to replenish the lost seagrass.
These questions remain without scientifically determined assessments and estimates. The first two are directly related to seagrass loss since manatee have no front teeth for cutting and remove grass – roots and all – by pulling it from the lagoon floor. The second two are directly related to nutrification and muck build-up in the lagoon.
- What is the daily intake of seagrass for an average manatee in the herd? (we have heard 10% body weight per day and 100 lbs gets thrown around)
- What is the production capacity of a healthy seagrass producing acre of the lagoon? (truthfully, I have not been able to find anything on this)
- What percentage of seagrass intake becomes solid waste? (conservatively, maybe 50% of daily ingestion)
- What is the chemical composition of manatee solid waste? (mostly elements present in seagrass not related to mammal metabolism)
Why are these numbers significant? Because while your table of TMDL for the Northern Indian River Lagoon Basin indicates 687,044 lbs of nitrogen per year and 56,550 pound of phosphorous, that same region of the IRL is now the year round home to in excess of 1700 manatees.
- Assume that these manatees consume 50 lbs of seagrass per day
- Assume an acre of seagrass produces 10 tons of seagrass per year
- Assume that these manatee produce 25 lbs of solid waste per day
- Assume that manatee manure is as good of a fertilizer as cow manure
With these conservative estimates, those 1700 manatee consume 31,025,000 pounds, or 15,000 TONS, or 1,500 acres of seagrass per year
And what about the by-product? 15,512,500 pounds of excrement – a significant amount of which was nitrogen and phosphorus in the ingested seagrass that passed directly back into the lagoon. Potentially 20 times the combined nitrogen and phosphorous TMDL. With dwindling seagrass to reabsorb these nutrients, unprecedented algae blooms flourished on them. Many of us theorize that some of the seagrass based parts of the food chain were re-based on the floating algae (as evidenced by post-mortem digestive tract analysis) and this may have produced the toxins that resulted in the die-offs of manatee, dolphin and pelican.
What’s worse is that putting this into perspective and comparing it to runoff. Leaking sewer lines and leaching septic tanks - If every man woman and child in Brevard County (population approx 550,000) went to rives edge once per year and poured a 25 lb bag of fertilizer directly into the river (recognizing the only small percentages of the 25 pounds are actually nutrients) it would be 13,750,000 pounds – which is short of the estimated manatee excrement production.
Of course these numbers are based on assumption and no one is trying to blame the entire state of the IRL on the manatee population, but the numbers are significant. Isn’t it time we demand the relevant science be accomplished to provide the answers to these fundamental questions by our responsible State and Federal agencies before we even toss around the notion of taxing our citizenry to fix a problem we haven’t completely defined.
Bob Atkins, President of Citizens for Florida Waterways
Jim Culberson, Sebastian Inlet Tax District board member & local historian addresses the impact of manatees
For a history book on the Sebastian Inlet I was working on in the late `80s early `90s I spent years reading through archived records, old local newspapers (back to 1876) and interviewing old-timers born and raised in Brevard & Indian River counties. From what I have learned manatees were never common in the lagoon system. In the 1920s-1930s if a manatee or two were spotted it was a momentous event that caused the majority of the town folk to turn out to see the unusual beast(s).
In the 1890s they were an occasional item on the menu at the better hotels along the river.
I have long felt that their grazing was a huge factor in the ecology of the lagoon system, but have never seen anything like accurate assessments of their intake-output. The figures you (Bob Atkin’s) present are most interesting.
I suspect that the count of 1,700 manatees in the lagoon system may be low. The estimate on intake and outgo may be low as well.
I particularly like your (Bob Atkin’s) closing statement “Isn’t it time we demand the relevant science be accomplished to provide the answers to these fundamental questions by our responsible State and Federal agencies before we even toss around the notion of taxing our citizenry to fix a problem we haven’t completely defined.”
Marty Smithson, Sebastian Inlet Tax District Administrator
My comments echo what I have been saying the past two years. Extreme back to back weather events unleashed an internal nutrient dump that spread throughout the northern and central lagoon, damaging healthy seagrass beds and wiping out struggling grass beds. The remote, unpopulated areas where grass beds are dense and widespread are recovering quickly. The urban areas where grass beds were patchy are having trouble recovering due to a lack of fragments and seeds that would be contributed if the beds had been dense and widespread. Some areas may take 10 years to recover. Some areas may never fully recover but change in character. That still does not mean that these areas have died. Just go north 40 or 50 miles where seagrass distribution ends and continue up the U.S. coast. There are some healthy fisheries in these areas. The ecology is just different. Not dead as the media continues to portray.
I believe we will learn some things from the ongoing investigations. Hopefully to prioritize spending in the future. End result may not be much different from what has just been stated.
Regardless, I believe we have to continue to implement the plans from the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Improvements were making a difference. Most seagrass distribution was documented in 2009, more than in 1943. 1943 was the restoration target. I have heard very little praises about the improvements achieved by 2009. While I have a lot of faith in the potential for natural recovery, I believe the recovery can be enhanced by nutrient reduction. Brevard County still needs to address treatment of over 1000 outfalls. Muck needs to be removed and failing septic tanks repaired. Reasonable fertilizer practices can’t hurt. We need to get past the knee jerk reactions such as banning all septic tanks and turf grass and get back to implementing the original plans for the lagoon. Those plans are like the lagoon’s constitution. I have never seen so many new groups wanting to write new ones. Sound familiar?
The analogy that has run through my head for some time now is like this: Picture an airport complex, runways, vast expanses of dry grass, infrastructure of lights, sheds, a few planes. Then a concentrated grouping of hangers with planes, fuel tanks, etc. Some of the hangers are old with drums of oil and fuel that have been leaking for decades. Poor housekeeping in some of the hangers. Now picture a lightning strike in the far end of the complex. The grass catches fire and starts to spread. You can picture the rest of the story. That’s how I imagine what happened in the lagoon. The question, I believe, is what needs to be done to reduce the damage in the future when it happens again?
Final comments regarding the proposed storm water assessment increase
• While it is a noble and good thing to improve the water quality in the lagoon system, we, the impecunious working public, are tapped out and need the county commission to figure out another way to meet these water quality mandates without digging further into our meager bank accounts.
• My disagreement with this storm water assessment proposal is not directed at the technical question of whether or how to control total inflow loads. It is directed at the question of how we choose to allocate tax resources. I absolutely believe there is no need for ‘new’ taxes. If this storm water issue is really a priority, the commission has the ability and the choice to trim some funds and allocate them to this ‘new’ priority.
• I find it interesting the solution to cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon is always to focus on raising taxes. CAN YOU SAY “FEED THE BUREAUCRACY”. My share of the “Proposed Stormwater Fee Increase” is at the top of the scale i.e., <$100/yr. County Government is trying to tell us that there isn’t enough “FAT” in their (chuckle) budget to cover the proposed fee. Really ? My property taxes are just a few bucks short of $10K/yr. You mean they can’t find a $100 out of my tax bill to cover the Proposed Stormwater Fee Increase ?
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These files are embedded in the parent file which has a lot more detail.