No John’s Island Wastewater Effluent Pipe in the Lagoon

Commentary by Paul Fafeita in on February 19, 2019

We’re all well aware of the seemingly endless string of already-existing environmental threats to our Indian River Lagoon.  

Now, John’s Island Water Management Inc., the private water utility exclusively serving John’s Island, is attempting to implement a plan that will inject yet another risk to our lagoon — and an avoidable one, at that.

JIWM wants more water for its barrier island golf courses, so it developed a plan to construct a dedicated pipeline from the county’s mainland wastewater effluent storage tanks which includes drilling under the lagoon more than a mile to the barrier island.

What’s not to like? The county needs to get rid of its wastewater, and JIWM wants it.

The environmental problem is twofold:

First, the tangible risk of accidents during pipeline construction. The heavy industrial drilling process proposed entails a well-documented risk known as “frac-out,” whereby drilling fluids escape the intended drill bore. This drilling fluid is toxic to aquatic life, which is already struggling to survive in our lagoon. There isn’t a worse place for frac-out to happen.

Second, the long-term risk of wastewater leakage from the pipeline into the lagoon.  Understand what wastewater effluent is — it is treated liquid sewage containing nitrogen, phosphorous and pharmaceuticals. Fecal coliform may also be present.  

Now is a terrible time to subject our lagoon to unnecessary construction and long-term risks. Fortunately, there are straightforward alternatives.

Aside from the obvious option of water conservation, drilling under our lagoon isn’t required in the first place. The county already has two existing wastewater pipelines strapped onto the Wabasso Bridge which then merge, run across the barrier island, then proceed down A1A. 

This existing piping has excess capacity; it logically could be extended farther down A1A to John’s Island. 

In fact, the county already funded an engineering study for detailed feasibility and mapping of exact plans for this route. 

Ironically, not only does using existing county infrastructure eliminate lagoon construction risk (i.e., frac-out) and the permanent risk of wastewater effluent leaking from this proposed pipe into the lagoon, it almost surely would be significantly less expensive to extend than building JIWM’s current lagoon drilling plan. This would ease the burden on the residents of John’s Island, who have already incurred a multimillion-dollar special assessment to drill this misguided pipeline. 

While many people living in John’s Island are environmentally conscious, most residents there are likely not fully aware of the unnecessary short- and long-term environmental risks their water-management company’s proposal will create to our lagoon’s health and, consequently, their health.

There is some encouraging news: Indian River Mosquito Control District commissioners firmly put the environment and public interest first by unanimously rejecting an easement for this pipeline under their island. However, JIWM hopes to bypass this rejection, trying to convince the county to assert a highly questionable right-of-way over the district’s island and “overrule” the rejection. 

If county commissioners went along with this, they would be setting a dangerous precedent given the many contradicting legal opinions regarding the existence of this purported right-of-way in the lagoon.

What can you do? Contact your county commissioners. They did the right thing before by placing a moratorium on the dumping of “biosolids” from outside our county and harming Blue Cypress Lake. Tell them to take similar action to protect our lagoon from homegrown “bioliquids” by altering the pipeline plan. Tell them not to grant an easement in an attempt to overrule the Mosquito Control District for the use of a private party’s construction plans.

And, if you live in John’s Island, encourage your directors to do the environmentally responsible thing: Use current infrastructure that won’t further risk our lagoon. Better still, implement water conservation options such as increasing native plant usage in your community.

Much is being done to restore our lagoon. Let’s not take a significant step backward now.

Paul Fafeita is president of the Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County.