An Environmental Situation in Indian River County Could Threaten the Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River County Board of Commissioners acted to cease all out of county-septic haulers from using the West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility at their May 2nd meeting. Commissioners took these dire matters to try and meet an April 11, 2017, Consent Order (17-0072) that they entered into with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) because of violations at the West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.  The facility has been discharging organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorous, all of which can feed algae blooms. The plant will be operating under intense scrutiny by the FDEP for the next two years, and may face potential financial penalties for any excesses of the permit limits.

Out-of-County Waste

Grab sampling of all incoming septage, porta-potty and grease haulers by the County’s Department of Utilities Services over a ten day period confirmed that elevated loading rates are entering the wastewater facility prior to dewatering. In fact, nitrogen rates were 100 times the allowable rate allowed by the state and phosphorous levels were 20 times the allowable rate.  As it turns out, out-of-county waste haulers are the primary users of the Indian River County wastewater facility.  Indeed, the county government was able to ascertain that approximately 66% of the waste brought to the site by haulers during the time period April 1-24, 2017, was not generated in Indian River County. These wastes came from commercial, industrial and municipal sources, in addition to residential septic tank cleanings, located in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Brevard and Okeechobee counties.

While haulers from other counties have used the West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility for over ten years, it was not intended for this purpose. It was planned and built to serve the needs of the Indian River County community. However, it seems that existing rate-payers in Indian River County are subsidizing out of county wastes.  In addition, Indian River County rates have been about half of what other counties charged.  Rates in Indian River County have been $7.51/wet ton.  Brevard County charges $16.78/wet ton.  The council voted to raise the hauling rate to $15 at the May 9th Board of Commissioners Meeting.

With out-of-county haulers no longer having a place to dump their waste loads (St. Lucie County has no facility; Brevard County only allows county residential septic waste), state, county, and local governments must be vigilant in their oversight to ensure human waste and industrial by-products are not illegally dumped into the Indian River Lagoon.  This concern was raised twice during the discussion.

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