One Lagoon, Once Voice:

Your Quarterly Guide to IRLNEP News and Progress

From Duane’s Desk

In our last newsletter, I talked about the beginning of the harmful algal bloom (HAB) season in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). In late July and August, these HABs have intensified and expanded, so I thought a brief update was warranted. Nutrient pollution, characterized by excess nitrogen and phosphorus that enters lagoon water, primarily from human sources, are primary drivers for HABs. External sources can include old or inadequate wastewater and septic systems, fertilizer carried in stormwater runoff, and atmospheric deposition. Internal sources include “legacy loads” that come from muck deposits that can be feet deep in some areas of the lagoon. Muck deposits form from eroded soils, decaying plants and animals, excess fertilizers, etc. Nutrients contained in muck are continually released into the water column, so provide a constant source of pollution that feeds algae and can cause algal blooms.

Photo by Heather Stapleton of Malabar/ Sebastian fish kill

Algal blooms impact water quality. They can shade light necessary for seagrass survival and, if long-lasting, can kill seagrasses. When a bloom dies, decomposition of algae cells can cause low dissolved oxygen (DO) which can result in fish kill events. Fish kills were reported in early August along the western shoreline of the IRL from Sebastian to Malabar. Thankfully, these events were not large or long lasting. However, continuing high water temperatures and ongoing HABs are likely to cause low DO levels and more fish kills through the remainder of the summer and early fall.

The best long-term approach to reducing HABs is preventing excess nutrients from all sources. This means we need to make significant investments to fix our aging and inadequate plumbing. Progress on this front is being made. During the 2023 Florida Legislative Session, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Legislature established the “Indian River Lagoon Protection Program” with a funding commitment of $100 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget for water quality projects that benefit the IRL. The Governor’s request is that this level of funding continue over each of the next three years. This historic level of commitment and investment will be required annually until IRL restoration is complete. At risk is an estuary that contributes $7.6 billion to the regional economy annually.

Project Update

The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program’s Small Grants program provides funding to community groups, teachers and student researchers for small but impactful programs that educate youth and communities about the Indian River Lagoon.

Katherine Harris, a PhD student with the Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab at University of Central Florida, received funds from the IRLNEP Small Grant program to bring oyster reefs to the classroom using virtual reality headsets. Katherine determined that “…first-hand, positive experiences with nature are a dominant factor in developing a person’s concern for the environment… (but) for many people, gaining first-hand experience is limited, particularly for inaccessible habitats like oyster reefs.” To bring oyster reefs to the classroom, Katherine filmed, narrated, and edited a 360° virtual reality video of different oyster reefs in Mosquito Lagoon. She then partnered with local schools to provide hands-on activities with corresponding lesson plans to investigate whether the virtual reality video could live up to real, hands-on experiences with the lagoon.

Once students put on the headsets, they were greeted with views of a flourishing oyster reef in the summer. They could hear water splashing, crabs foraging, and could watch as an ibis flew overhead. They were then greeted with Katherine’s voice, explaining the importance of the Indian River Lagoon oyster habitats before they were switched to the next scene.

Following their virtual reality experience, students interacted with live oysters and crabs to illustrate how oysters create habitats. A water filtering pump demonstrated how oysters filter and clean water in the IRL. Additionally, they were able to touch and feel the biodegradable restoration materials commonly used on the reef.

In total, 259 students participated in these virtual reality video and hands-on activities. Harris crunched the numbers of her pre- and post- surveys from the students and determined that virtual reality was an equally effective method of science outreach and communication. Her work demonstrates that in outreach situations where it is not possible for students to engage directly with live animals or wildlife habitats, virtual reality is a successful way to engage audiences.

Management Conference Quarterly Meetings

The IRLNEP Management Conference conducted its most recent series of quarterly meetings in August. Meeting at Up the Creek Farms in Grant-Valkaria on Tuesday, August 8, 2023, beginning at 9 a.m. were the Finance Subcommittee, Management Board and STEM Advisory Committee. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee met at Sebastian City Hall on August 10, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.; and the Board of Directors met on August 11, 2023 at Sebastian City Hall beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Finance Subcommittee

The Finance Subcommittee reviewed the quarterly financial reports. It also recommended to the IRL Management Board that the IRL Council Board of Directors accept the 2022 Audit Report from Carr, Riggs and Ingram; approve the fiscal year 2023 amended budget and approve the amended final budget for fiscal year 2024. Finance Subcommittee Chair, Stu Glass, suggested expanding the subcommittee membership and made a request for additional participation at the Management Board meeting.

For details of all business conducted at the Finance Subcommittee meeting, view our Meeting Package.

Management Board and the STEM Advisory Committees

The Management Board and Stem Advisory Committee each made recommendations to the IRL Council Board of Directors to approve and direct staff to submit the fiscal year 2024 EPA Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Workplan; approve amendments to the fiscal year 2023 final budget; approve amendments to the fiscal year 2024 final budget; support a resolution to reconnect portions of the St. Johns and South Florida water Management Districts; authorize staff to develop and release Requests for Proposals for fiscal year 2025.

For details of all business conducted at the Management Board meeting, view our Meeting Packet. For details of all business conducted at the STEM Advisory Committee meeting, view our Meeting Packet.

Presentation

Dr. Austin Fox, Florida Institute of Technology, presented his findings from an IRLNEP Small Grant. Fox and his team investigated the effects of glyphosate on seagrass grown in a controlled laboratory setting. The team dosed seagrass tanks with various concentrations of glyphosate. The lowest dose used in these experiments (1 part per million [ppm]) was 1,000 times higher than glyphosate concentrations reported from the IRL (1.06 parts per billion). Little change in growth was observed at the lower concentrations of glyphosate used. At high application rates, seagrasses were impacted (100 ppm) and died (1,000 ppm). Interestingly, the mere presence of glyphosate (an acid) in the water increased phosphorus levels, leading the Fox team to investigate the potential for increased nutrient release as the active ingredients in glyphosate break down.

Though the team will pursue additional investigation, these initial results indicate that glyphosate, at the concentrations found in the lagoon, is not acutely toxic to seagrasses. However, the breakdown of glyphosate increases phosphorus in the water. This, together with the biomass decay treated plants that enter the lagoon, increases nutrients that act as drivers for algal blooms. If you are interested in learning more, view a video presentation by Dr. Fox on this work.

Executive Director, Dr. Duane De Freese, thanked Dr. Fox and reminded those present that IRLNEP Small Grants deliver a huge return on investment, proving that science doesn’t have to be expensive to gain good knowledge.

Citizen’s Advisory Committee

The Citizens Advisory Committee lacked a quorum so could not conduct voting on any item. However, a consensus of those present was provided to the Board of Directors to inform their decision-making. The committee discussed offering a grant writing workshop in advance of the opening of the IRLNEP annual funding cycle to advise submitters on the basics of good grant-writing. They also offered consensus that the Board of Directors should approve and direct staff to submit the fiscal year 2024 EPA Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Workplan; approve amendments to the fiscal year 2023 final budget; approve amendments to the fiscal year 2024 final budget; support a resolution to reconnect portions of the St. Johns and South Florida water Management Districts; authorize staff to develop and release Requests for Proposals for fiscal year 2025.

For details of all business conducted at the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, view our Meeting Packet.

Presentation

The Citizens Advisory Committee heard a presentation about and took part in a demonstration of a virtual reality outreach tool developed by Katherine Harris, a graduate student at University of Central Florida. Ms. Harris received an IRLNEP Small Grant to develop a virtual reality (VR) experience for students that could be used to immerse audiences in the science and restoration of IRL oyster reefs.

Read more about this exciting project here.

IRL Council Board of Directors

The week of quarterly meetings concluded with the IRL Council Board of Directors meeting, which incorporated all the recommendations from the Management Conference. The Board of Directors received and approved the 2022 Audit Report; approved and directed staff to submit the fiscal year 2024 EPA Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Workplan; approved amendments to the fiscal year 2023 final budget; approved amendments to the fiscal year 2024 final budget; supported a resolution to reconnect portions of the St. Johns and South Florida Water Management Districts; authorized staff to develop and release Requests for Proposals for fiscal year 2025. The Board also heard staff reports and Executive Director Duane De Freese’s quarterly report.

For details of all business conducted at the IRL Council Board of Directors meeting, view our Meeting Packet.

 

Presentation

Adam Blalock, Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, presented a summary of the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program created under Executive Order 23-06 by Governor DeSantis. This program has $100 million in funding available for projects that benefit water quality improvements in the Indian River Lagoon. Mr. Blalock encouraged local governments to submit grant proposals via the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s grants portal, which remains open through August 31, 2023.

To view the video of this meeting, visit the City of Sebastian’s YouTube page.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT: Local Government Happenings

The work done by local governments within the IRL watershed is integral on our pathway to a healthy lagoon. We commend our municipal partners for their commitment, hard work and dedication.

Volusia County Council Approves Volusia Forever Work Plan, Continues to Support Major Conservation Efforts

At the August 15, 2023, County Council meeting, board members approved the Volusia Forever Advisory Committee’s (VFAC) 2023/2024 work plan and goals. The newly appointed Committee unanimously approved the work plan in June.

Volusia Forever 2023/2024 Work Plan and Goals:

  1. Conduct at least two (2) property/application eligibility public meetings.
  2. Conduct at least two (2) property sorting public meetings and present the recommended ranking to the County Council for approval.
  3. Support the acquisition of conservation lands through implementation of the Small Lot Acquisition Program.
  4. Support the protection of the integrity and function of agricultural and natural systems through less than fee conservation and agricultural easements.
  5. Review the criteria utilized to define, and, where appropriate, use the reviewed information to pursue the expansion of the Volusia Conservation Corridor Florida Forever project area.
  6. Conduct an annual evaluation of the Primary Site Ranking Criteria and the Forests and Farmlands Site Ranking Criteria

Volusia Forever was initially approved by voters in 2000 and reauthorized in 2020 for another 20 years. Its mission is to finance the acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive lands, water resource protection, and outdoor recreation opportunities. The program will manage acquired lands in perpetuity. The VFAC is required to conduct an annual goal-setting session, which outlines the Committee’s work plan for the year.

There were many letters sent in support of this item and many citizens came to speak in support of protecting wildlife and water resources. Volusia County is such a unique, lush green beauty and the Council continues its’ stewardship, doing what is best for wetlands, wildlife, and the watershed.

Visit Volusia Forever for more information.

Indian River Avenue Force Main Infrastructure Project Begins in Titusville!

Map showing the new force main that upgrades sewer services in Titusville.

The Indian River Force Main Project, with a budget allocation of $9,528,453 from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program, is expected to reach completion by year’s end. The project upgrades almost 8,000 feet of existing sewer force main from the Osprey Water Reclamation Facility to South Street is a major infrastructure enhancement. This retrofit project not only protects the lagoon from potential hazards but will also enhance service to customers.

Much of the existing force main, situated on the east side of US-1, will be moved further from the Indian River Lagoon. The outdated, size-limited wastewater piping, constructed from cast iron, had corroded over time. In 2020, a rupture caused sewage to spill into nearby stormwater ponds and to the lagoon. Following that accident, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection set stipulations that lead us to this environmentally significant improvement.

To stay up to date on road closures and traffic patterns, visit City of Titusville website.

The Indian River County Lagoon Management Plan Moves Forward 

Indian River County’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the Draft Indian River County (IRC) Lagoon Management Plan (LMP) at the July 11, 2023, Board meeting. Shortly after, two public workshops were scheduled for August 10th and August 17th.

The IRC LMP addresses key factors impacting the health of the Indian River Lagoon through research and the implementation of restoration projects to improve resiliency in Indian River County communities and conditions in the Indian River Lagoon. The LMP is a living document that may be modified based on emerging factors and research.

Some key factors mirror the IRLNEP’s Vital Signs, such as Harmful Algal Blooms, Marinas and Boat Ramps, Hydrology (and Hydrodynamics), and Stormwater.

Figure: IRC Water Consumption by Source in 2021

The goals and objectives are broken into categories based on IRC departments, Coastal, Stormwater, Conservation Lands, Utilities, and Community Development. Each category lists recommended actions to improve current standards such as identifying opportunities for rainwater to recharge aquifers and reduce freshwater flows into the IRL; increasing the number of outflow pump facilities; establishing nurseries for future seagrass and mangrove plantings; and continuing to promote water conservation actions by water users throughout IRC.

If you’re reading this before the September 26, 2023, regularly scheduled BOCC meeting, there is still time to provide your input. The Board of County Commissioners will vote on a first reading of the Draft IRC LMP and comments will be accepted at that regularly scheduled meeting, which will be held at the IRC BOCC, SW 20th Street beginning at 9:00AM.

St. Lucie County Considers Stormwater Pond Project at Ancient Oaks Preserve in Fort Pierce

St. Lucie County, together with consultants at South Florida Engineering and Consulting LLC (SFEC), are involved in the design and planned construction of a stormwater treatment pond on approximately 1.7 acres of County-owned property located in the southwest corner of Ancient Oaks Preserve in Fort Pierce, Florida. The area being considered for the pond is currently covered in weedy vegetation, invasive-exotic plants, and not of high conservation value.  

Ancient Oak Preserve/Weldon B. Lewis Park is located along Oleander Ave. just north of Midway Road in Ft. Pierce. The area includes 13 acres of multi‐use fields with a playground as well as a 38‐acre natural preserve which includes a walking trail. The preserve is located adjacent to Merritt’s Ditch. The parcel currently drains via a small ditch central to the property and to a lesser extent to Merritt’s Ditch. Both features eventually drain stormwater runoff into Ten Mile Creek and then into the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. 

As the County continues to work on developing water quality improvement projects, stormwater treatment ponds will play key roles in helping the County reach its goals for meeting State Basin Management Action Plan requirements. When completed, the Ancient Oaks project is estimated to reduce nitrogen inputs by 33% and phosphorus inputs by 62%.  

Residents and stakeholders gave public comments in July and August. The first meeting included a discussion of project goals and objectives, possible alternatives, and provided a venue for public comment and input. The second meeting presented the recommended design and provided additional opportunities for public input.  

Have you visited Ancient Oaks Preserve/Weldon B. Lewis Park? Check out the amenities here: St. Lucie County – Environmental Resources. 

Old Palm City’s Ripple Stormwater ECOART Project is Near Completion 

Stormwater, Art & Community… OH, MY! The Old Palm City Community Redevelopment Area’s (CRA) innovative stormwater treatment project is integrated with artistic and educational elements, alongside community engagement. You mean, beauty and creativity with our environmental assets? Yes, please!

This water quality project will be located on parcels along 28th Street and 29th Street in Old Palm City. The improvements encompass approximately 2.36 acres, including four (4) County owned parcels, within a drainage basin of almost 20 acres. In addition to improved flood routing, a trail system traversing through the sites utilizing dry or wet detention ponds, which provide water quality and flood attenuation improvements.

Martin County’s Board of County Commissioners and staff are proud of the collaboration that took place to bring this project to fruition. In 2021, the project design was partially funded by National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town grants, and developed through artist-led community engagement with neighborhood residents and design professionals. It even sounds artsy: “Ripple…As a drop of water becomes a river.”

Check out the YouTube video to learn more. Want to be a part of the community experience regarding this project? Check out the Ripple Project Sensory Tour.

Each year the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) partners with local environmental clubs, NGOs, state organizations, and schools to conduct A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon. The program aims to help students and community members develop knowledge of the lagoon and its current stressors. Participants in this program collect water samples from many different locations throughout the IRL, all on the same day, to provide a snapshot of lagoon health.   

The next Day in the Life program will be held on October 5, 2023. Participants will conduct several activities pertaining to water quality, biodiversity, and current issues while learning from agency staff and community members about the importance of the lagoon.  

All data is available to the public. To participate in ADIL or learn more, please visit Team Orca. 

One Community

International Coastal Cleanup: Saturday, September 16, 2023

Though the full length of the Indian River Lagoon is 156 miles, the estimated length of its shoreline is over 2,300 miles! Unfortunately, our shorelines are potential places for litter to pile up. Litter mainly comes from many sources:

  • Pedestrians or motorists who discard litter to our streets.
  • Dumpsters that are improperly covered.
  • Loading docks and commercial or recreational marinas with inadequate waste receptacles.
  • Construction and demolition sites without tarps and receptacles to contain debris and waste.
  • Trucks with uncovered loads on roads and highways.
  • Household trash and recycling scattered before or during collection.

While litter might not be your trash, it is on your shoreline! You can help keep our waterways clean by participating in International Coastal Cleanup on September 16, 2023. It’s one important way to help protect our beautiful shorelines and wildlife. Coastal Clean-up is also a wonderful opportunity for individuals, families, and communities to come together to positively impact their local environments.

Every bottle, every straw, and every piece of trash cleaned leads to a healthier lagoon and ocean. As part of this year’s International Coastal Cleanup, most of the lagoon region has multiple organizations leading efforts to clean up popular recreational sites. Feel free to join any of these efforts or conduct a clean-up of your own. Some of this year’s events end with local celebrations so you and your fellow volunteers can enjoy refreshments and food for your efforts.

If you would like to participate at a planned site, the organizers ask that you register in advance. To find a Coastal Cleanup event in your county, follow the links below:

Click On the Buttons Below to Find Locations to Volunteer:

One Voice

One Voice: The Podcast

If you’re interested in learning more about the Indian River Lagoon and what’s being done to protect and restore its health, consider listening to the IRLNEP’s podcast called, One Lagoon – One Voice. The show aims to inform, inspire, and engage listeners with the wonders and issues of the Indian River Lagoon. Each episode features conversations with experts, leaders and community members who share their insights and perspectives on a variety of topics including seagrass restoration, manatee populations, recreational opportunities, history and so much more. We also cover the latest research findings, best management practices, and success stories that showcase the progress and challenges of lagoon restoration.

Listen and subscribe to One Lagoon – One Voice on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  YouTube, or other platforms. You can also access episodes on the Podcast page of the IRLNEP website. Don’t miss this opportunity to discover and learn more about one of Florida’s most precious natural resources. Tune in to One Lagoon – One Voice today; and if you have an idea for a future episode, drop your suggestions to info@irlcouncil.org.

episode seven thumbnail for one lagoon one voice podcast