Florida leaders energize efforts to replace leaking septic systems to save marine life

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. – Two heads of state are stepping up efforts to clean up Indian River Lagoon waters to save dying marine life.

“You know, we’re all proud of our waterways here,” said Anthony Gubler. “Anyone moving to Brevard County knows how important the Indian River Lagoon is.”

As an environmental specialist for the Save Our Indian River Lagoon project in Brevard County, Gubler has helped oversee several projects aimed at preventing chemical leakage into the waterway.

The problem

Gubler met News 6 in the Indian River Isles North subdivision in Rockledge, where construction crews were completing a project that involved removing sewer systems and connecting homes to the county’s sewage system.

“I think about five or six years ago we installed monitoring wells in this community to see — what was the groundwater like? Are we actually seeing nitrogen and phosphorus from these septic systems migrating into the Indian River Lagoon?” he said. “We saw it, and it was some pretty big numbers — higher than expected.”

Scientists blame these high nitrogen and phosphorus levels for feeding algal blooms, which can block sunlight underwater. They said that can starve seagrass and in turn marine life, like manatees, that rely on their food.

Gubler said the project in the north Indian islands will prevent more than 5,000 pounds of nitrogen from entering the water.

News 6 surveyed and more than a third of Florida residents, or 2.3 million people, use septic systems.

In Brevard County, that amounts to more than 53,000 households at the latest census.

Possible solutions

State Senator Jason Broeder, R-Dist. 10, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations.

“One thing I’m going to be particularly focused on is our continued switch from septic tank to sewer,” he told a committee meeting last week.

“It’s extremely expensive to fix this problem,” he told News 6 in a follow-up interview.

Days after Broeder’s comments in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he was committing millions of dollars to help with the cleanup effort.

“We want to establish a conservation program for the Indian River Lagoon and secure at least $100 million each year for water quality improvement projects,” he said at a news conference in Bonita Springs.

Broeder told News 6 the money to fund the governor’s proposal would likely come from the influx of new people moving to Florida.

“Their sales tax, their document stamps — all the ways the state generates revenue just keeps growing,” he said. “If we get this new money, we should use it to fix some of the problems we’ve had in the past.”

News 6 asked the governor’s office where the money would come from.

“The governor must present budget recommendations at least 30 days before the legislative session,” Assistant Secretary of State Jeremy Redfern said. “As with all proposals, this is subject to the allocation of funds by the Florida Legislature.”

The legislative period begins on April 10th.

According to Gubler, Brevard County is using a mix of state, state and local funds to connect septic systems to the sewer system and to replace some aging septic systems with more efficient ones.

He said any extra money that can prevent harmful chemicals from entering the water is welcome.

“That’s what we’re working towards — restoring the lagoon so the seagrass can come back and the ecosystem base can regain its footing and be self-sustaining,” he said.

Brevard County residents can check their eligibility for grants and cost-sharing initiatives to replace their septic systems here.

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