Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

January 2014 Prez Sez

Your executive and I hope you had a great Christmas season and we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.

Lee Bidgood Update

I noted in the December Conservation Notes that Lee was serially ill with advanced lymphoma.  According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, he passed away on the 11th of December.  The environmental movement lost a pioneer.  We will miss him.  Our condolences and best wishes go to Catherine and the rest of his family.

The Indian River Lagoon

Water is Florida's engine. It has been chugging on for centuries providing critical resources for Florida's settlement, early manufacturing,  transportation and tourism.

But as time passed, man did things to the water. He drained the swamp and wetlands for agriculture and then irrigated with it. He diked Lake Okeechobee after the hurricane flooding early in the 20th century, constructed drainage ditches from inland rivers to the east and west, settled along the banks of most rivers and lakes and polluted them with runoff from farms and lawns and oil and tarry roads. Along the way, people, companies and municipalities injected wastes directly into the rivers. 

And now the Indian River Lagoon system is brown with algae. It has been that way for three years.

In a compelling article entitled "Troubled Water, The Indian River Lagoon in Peril," Dinah Voyles-Pulver   listed problems and symptoms which have resulted in the deaths of at least 76 Bottlenose Dolphins, 250 Brown Pelicans, 116 Manatees, and countless fish kills along with tremendous expanses of seagrass beds. 

You know things are bad when business people enjoin their county council to do something about the river's problems.  A recent Regional Conservation Committee composed of representatives of  Audubon clubs along the Indian River met recently and listened to stories of the day.  One realtor told her county Council that they had to Photoshop the color of the river in photos taken to sell houses in the area.  Another asked the council: "How can we  $5 million homes adjacent to a cesspool?" 

Protests from groups in South Florida triggered a Senate select committee and a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. Now, despite the fact that Floridians made a mess of the river, they want federal money to help fix it.  YGBSM!

According to Dinah's article, people have been talking about water clarity and nutrients in the IRL since the late '70s and early '80s.  The Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Lagoon Protection Act in 1990 and the huge reductions in waste water flow and improvements in storm water treatment resulted in some improvements. But, the directive to target areas where septic tanks threatened were never completely implemented.  In fact, when Maureen and I worked at Canaveral National Seashore, clamming was restricted after a rainfall of about 1.5 inches in a day.  Clams are filter feeders and they live by circulating water through their digestive systems.  Not good to eat clams when they are filtering the remains of septic tanks!

Besides apathy in Florida's state government, time is the biggest challenge to the IRL's health.  Groups like the St John's River Water Management District are studying the various permutations of entry points of pollutants into the system to understand which ones need to be attacked first and provide most cost-benefit. These studies will take years to complete. 

Studies of neighborhoods where septic systems were greatest threats were completed in compliance with the 1990 law but the solutions, replacing septic systems with newer models or with sewer systems were expensive, met with intense citizen push-back, and lack of political will to force the issue. 

Dinah also points out that in the 1990s,  management districts adopted newer and stricter rules for stormwater management.   Using federal money, they partnered with local governments to build new stormwater processing systems that clean the runoff before it ends up in the waterway.  But more needs to be done.  Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection adopted a new 15-year program to improve the quality of the water entering the Indian River.  But Mosquito Lagoon was not even included in the plan. 

If we are going to fix the IRL, the politicians in Tallahassee will have to stop cutting funds to the people who are primarily responsible for studying water issues and change the mindset of fast-tracking consumptive use permits.  They will need to quit the requirement for buying lands for conservation with funds generated from the sale of previously purchased environmentally-sensitive lands.  The will have to recognize the economic impact of the nearly $4 billion that the IRL brings in via fishing, tourism and recreation.  They will need to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bribe companies into settling in Florida and focus on the natural resources that brought them here for centuries.

And then there are the springs!

Happy Birding New Year.