The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $10 million in grant funding to Brevard County last week for the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries.
“Governor Scott and Florida’s legislative leaders are committed to improving the health of the Indian River Lagoon,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Restoring this unique and treasured water body is a top priority among our state’s leadership and the department is proud to partner with Brevard County to improve lagoon water quality.”
Created by decades of runoff, erosion and nutrient loading, the accumulated muck deposits within the lagoon are damaging to seagrass beds, contribute to algal blooms and create bottom conditions that are not conducive to healthy marine life.
The Brevard County project is also expected to remove up to 672 tons of total nitrogen and 144 tons of total phosphorous contained within the muck deposits. This project joins other lagoon restoration efforts already underway including a $10 million Eau Gallie River muck removal project, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon, more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants and millions more in support to local lagoon organizations focused on raising awareness of lagoon health.
“This is a critical point in lagoon restoration where state, federal and local partners realize we have to get started now with projects that will work,” said Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management. “This project serves to bring strong science about muck removal to the conversation while making real progress, and DEP has been a fantastic partner in getting this project expedited.”
Brevard County staff aims to have some dredges in the water by January 2015 with full deployment and active operations among all dredging resources by July 2015.
“The ecological health of the Northern and Central Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River are central to our way of life throughout this beautiful region,” said Senator Andy Gardiner. “These restoration efforts are and will continue to be a significant priority of the Florida Legislature and I want to thank Senator Altman for his leadership on this issue.”
“Communities up and down the Space Coast rely on the lagoon to strengthen their local economies and support their quality of life,” said Senator Thad Altman. “It’s critical we remove these sediments from our waterways and get the Indian River Lagoon on a pathway to health.”
The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 when temperatures dropped significantly. This was followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage. Removing excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the lagoon is important to help prevent these events from occurring in the future.
Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed the lagoon back to ideal health.