LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
Every so often the County of Brevard goes on a public relations offensive coined “When it Rains it Drains” seeking to sell the local government line that lawn fertilizer and dog poop are the principal causes of algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon and off of our beaches.
If only it were true.
Conspicuously absent from these presentations and conventional government “wisdom” on what threatens these undeniable economic, recreational and cultural resources is the pollutant load being pumped or leaked every second into our waterways by municipal governments in the form of faulty sewer plants, both above and below ground.
In one recent presentation, not a word was mentioned of the controversy along the Banana River in Cocoa Beach over the city’s plan to spend a $15 million state grant to make improvements to its sewer plant and build an aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) well instead of repairing its network of broken and leaking sewer mains throughout the waterfront town.
Crumbling Apollo Era pipes under the streets of Cocoa Beach wreak havoc on its wastewater treatment facility during the rainy summer months when the river and surrounding water table are at their highest level, forcing the facility to discharge partially treated sewage into the Banana River, making the idyllic beach town’s sewer system the largest “point source” of nitrogen and phosphorus on the waterway.
Rather than spend a portion of the grant money to permanently fix the root cause of saltwater flowing into its submerged sewer lines and overwhelming its treatment capacity, Cocoa Beach will build an ASR to store the overflow, effluent that can no longer be discharged into the waterway thanks to an administrative order handed down from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Cocoa Beach’s approach to healing the patient is akin to treating a massive bacterial infection with chicken soup.
Scientists from the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office do not deny that raw sewage being leeched into the water table from the same broken pipes during drier months could migrate out to at least three hundred feet. Cocoa Beach is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River/Indian River Lagoon, both within that 300 foot radius. Consequently, plumes of radiating raw sewage (not shorebirds) are the likely source of fecal coliform contamination that close the Cocoa Beach Pier area during spring and early summer as well as algae blooms when the lagoon water heats up.
But when challenged to consider spilled human waste as the source of beach closures and river algae blooms, all I got were blank stares from county representatives in a recent “educational outreach” at our local library. When I insisted that in 30 years of observing stormwater runoff challenges in California and Florida, “I have never once witnessed dog poop flowing down the street and into a storm drain,” I was met with an audible sigh and a piercing look from the presenter, Elizabeth Melvin, Community Outreach Specialist, Natural Resources Management Office. She had just dramatized her indictment of dogs using a disgusting, computer-generated image of a steaming pile of dog feces flowing down a street in Suntree, through the storm water system and out into the distant lagoon.
It was as offensive as it was completely false.
Not only was the County’s trick dog and pony show devoid of any mention of the manatee, dolphin, fish, bird and, most important of all, human waste impact relative to the unproven pet waste claim, Ms. Melvin claimed to be completely unaware of the Cocoa Beach sewer plant debacle.
That evening it was not altogether clear to me who was educating who.