On May 15, 2020, two months into the COVID-1919 shutdown, an article in TC Palm appeared that really gave me reason to ask, “Why?” The title, “Indian River Lagoon clears up during coronavirus crisis.”
At this point, Brevard County was shut down for 2 full months and, suddenly, the river clears up! What changed? The article dabbles at causes including drought conditions that eliminated fertilizer run off, no cars on the road and rain was not washing the pollutants into the river, dredging is paying off, etc. No firm conclusions.
All that speculation and no indication that any testing was done to measure the nitrogen levels, organic or inorganic. It’s amazing this was not done, since nitrogen from septic systems gets all the blame for all the ills that plague the Lagoon and a whole lot of money is being directed at eliminating it. Brevard County, flush with money from a ½ penny sales tax, is offering $18,000 to homeowners with septic systems if they will convert to “Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Septic Systems! Just an observation…the Lagoon is crystal clear and almost no systems have been converted.
What is different? What is the same? What does this have to do with septic systems? With the shutdown, office buildings, schools, businesses were not contributing to the municipal sewer system. All the human waste was confined to homes and apartment buildings. That means homes on septic systems were operating at abnormally high capacity, with workers and children at home. Remember, that septic systems are a “constant” input, not periodic. And, still the river ran clean.
It seems to me that the common sense conclusion is that the human waste component of nutrient pollution could be coming from compromised sewer lines serving the places that were shut down, not from the septic systems. Further, the wastewater treatment plant volume was abnormally low, cut by the number of schools and businesses that were no longer contributing.
Two months was all it took to have the river run clean and the septic systems were operating the whole time at probably double the volume. It will be interesting to see if the Lagoon gets murky now that things are opening back up. It would have been prudent and contributed to our knowledge base had someone thought to test the “clean” water for nitrogen sources and levels, or pressure test the sewer pipes for leakage. There are better places to put $18,000 dollars per septic system owner. It seems unlikely the Lagoon will see a return on that investment.
So much of the water quality issue suffers from a lack of meaningful testing, or meaningful use of prior testing. The notion that Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Systems are a reliable, cost effective replacement for conventional septic systems is just that – a notion. No cost, performance, or reliability data has ever been produced by our agencies or provided to homeowners, or legislators, for that matter. What documentation is available has been buried and not included in the BMAP modeling, plans and mandates. As a matter of fact, in the FDEP incentive program that promises homeowners a funding incentive if they voluntarily convert to an Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Septic System, FDEP has inserted a disclaimer that must be signed by the homeowner. The disclaimer says FDEP will not be held accountable for the nitrogen reduction performance of the approved advanced systems. What?????
I do not have to ask why this disclaimer exists in the contract the homeowner must sign. I know why. It is because no field data has been collected on installed, existing “advanced” systems, or what data has been collected has been buried in the agency archives because it casts serious doubt on their “recommended” solution.
Always true…computer models are only as good as their underlying assumptions. The accepted NSF-245 standard for nitrogen reduction performance of an advanced system is a lab result and not the same as an installed, real world result. The computer modeling “facts” driving BMAP, Springs Protection BMAP’s, and the conversion to so-called advanced solutions are packed with carefully selected data and assumptions chosen to support a 10-year-old predetermined action plan. Actual science and proven solutions do not seem to matter. Neither do actual costs. Therefore, BMAP’s, and especially Springs Protection BMAP’s that call for septic system “remediation” are destined to fail. Billions of dollars will be spent state-wide with no corresponding improvement in water quality. We must demand accountability for both the science and the solutions. Our Governor, our legislators and our agencies need to hear from you.