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TC Palm: Editorial: Counties along Indian River Lagoon should work together on septic tank issue

Monday, October 21, 2013

Replacing septic tanks and putting properties on sewer systems along the route of the Indian River Lagoon would be a massive and expensive undertaking.

But, it may be a critical component to improving the long-term health of the invaluable estuary.

If that work is to be accomplished, the newly established Indian River Lagoon Counties Collaborative, with a representative from each of the six counties along the lagoon, could be key if it can find a way to work together on that goal.

Established under the leadership of Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding, the collaborative held its first meeting in September and began discussions on how they can combine political and financial resources to deal with pollution problems impacting the lagoon.

Those problems vary from north to south and include discharges from Lake Okeechobee, fertilizer runoff and septic leakage into the lagoon.

Since the first meeting, local and state political leaders throughout the district have addressed the septic tank issue and expressed a desire to eventually get wastewater customers on public sewer systems. But, the biggest hurdle appears to be the considerable cost. Among the three counties of the Treasure Coast alone there are about 120,000 septic systems. Replacing those systems could cost governments hundreds of millions of dollars and homeowners thousands of additional dollars.

The next meeting of the collaborative is scheduled for Nov. 8 at the Indian River County Commission chambers. Presentations are tentatively scheduled from the St. Johns River Water Management District and from Brian LaPointe, a professor at the Florida Atlantic University branch of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

LaPointe, who undertook major studies of the lagoon in 2011 and 2012, believes sewage runoff is a major contributor to the pollution problems throughout its 156-mile route.

The issue with septic tanks and the problems related to them should be a significant topic during that upcoming meeting. The collaborative is also working to develop scientific data to locate pollution sources and levels within the lagoon.

Armed with that research and data, the counties should have a better idea of what needs to be done. And, that information could go a long way to obtaining whatever state and/or federal funding assistance might be available to address the septic tank pollution of the lagoon.

The costs for switching from septic tanks to sewer systems may be prohibitive for individual counties and property owners. But, combining their political influence, the counties in the collaborative may have more opportunities to get the funding help necessary to at least begin replacing the most troublesome septic tanks.

There seems to be considerable momentum among the counties to begin taking direct actions to improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon. Eliminating some of the problems associated with septic tank systems may be one of the best direct actions they might implement.

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