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TC Palm: Letter: Septic connection must be addressed in race to save our lagoon

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

I owe an apology to Malcolm Mahr, who in a recent letter asserted that more study of the Indian River Lagoon estuary is necessary “to scientifically identify the most damaging sources of pollution.”

In response, I wrote suggesting that more study, while certainly not worthless, might lead to a “paralysis of analysis” given the multitude of studies undertaken. However, one ongoing study certainly is noteworthy. In a recent issue of “Vero’s Voice,” Keith MacDonald reports on a study being by Dr. Brian LaPointe of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

LaPointe has been studying the growth of gracilaria — red drift algae — in the estuary. MacDonald notes, “When the 2011 algae bloom began annihilating the seagrass beds in Indian River County, LaPointe began studying septic system discharges from properties bordering the river.”

LaPointe wrote: “We began tracking stable nitrogen isotopes … Sewage has a very enriched stable nitrogen isotope ratio and red drift algae thrives on it.”

By sampling 20 sites along the full length of the Indian River Lagoon, LaPointe’s research team was able to study the “concentration of nutrients in gracilaria samples,” helping them to determine the origins of the nutrients on which red drift algae, toxic to manatees, feed.

Their conclusion: Gracilaria feeds primarily on nutrients (effluent) leeched into the lagoon from tens of thousands of septic systems that no longer meet current building code standards. According to LaPointe, “Septic tanks are a very serious issue” government agencies need to address.

County and city administrators should 1) order thorough inspections of all septic systems within their jurisdictions and, 2) connect as many properties as feasible to city or county septic systems.

Furthermore, homeowners and businesses genuinely concerned about the estuary should take steps to bring their septic tanks up to code.

Cray Little, Vero Beach

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