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

Gov. Ron DeSantis hopes to secure $100M each year to Indian River Lagoon

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. – Two state leaders are energizing efforts to clean the waters of the Indian River Lagoon in an attempt to save dying marine life.

“You know, we all take pride in our waterways here,” Anthony Gubler said. “Anyone who moves to Brevard County knows how important the Indian River Lagoon is.”

As an environmental specialist for Brevard County’s Save Our Indian River Lagoon project, Gubler has helped to oversee several projects designed to stop chemicals from leeching into the waterway.

The problem

Gubler met News 6 in the Indian River Isles North subdivision in Rockledge, where construction crews were finishing up a project where they removed the septic systems and connected homes to the county’s sewer system.

“I believe about five or six years ago, we installed monitoring wells throughout this community to look at — what did the groundwater look like? Are we actually seeing nitrogen and phosphorus from those septic systems migrating to the Indian River Lagoon?” he said. “We saw it, and it was some pretty high numbers — higher than expected.”

Scientists blame those high nitrogen and phosphorus levels for feeding algae blooms, which can block sunlight under water. They said that can starve sea grass, and, in turn, starve marine life, like manatees, who rely on it for food.

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

News 6 investigated and more than one-third of Florida residents, or 2.3 million people, use septic systems.

In Brevard County, that amounts to more than 53,000 homes, according to the latest count.

Possible solutions

State Sen. Jason Broeder, R-Dist. 10, chairs the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.

“One thing I am going to make a big focus on is our continued septic-to-sewer conversion,” he said at a committee meeting last week.

“This is an extremely expensive problem to solve,” he told News 6 in a follow up interview.

Days after Broeder’s comments in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he is committing millions of dollars to help in the clean up efforts.

“We are looking to establish an Indian River Lagoon protection program and to secure at least $100 million each year for projects to improve water quality,” 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 doc stamps -- all of the ways the state gets revenue continue to increase,” he said. “As we get that new money, we should use it to fix some of the problems that we’ve had in the past.”

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

“The governor is required to submit budget recommendations at least 30 days before the legislative session,” Deputy Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern said. “As with all proposals, this relies on the appropriation of funds by the Florida legislature.”

The legislative session begins on April 10.

Gubler said Brevard County uses a mix of county, state and local funding to connect septic systems to sewer and to replace some aging septic systems with ones that are more efficient.

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

“That’s what we’re working towards -- restoring the lagoon, so that seagrass comes back and the foundation of the ecosystem can take hold again and support itself,” he said.

Brevard County residents can check to see if they are eligible for grants and cost-sharing initiatives for replacing their septic systems here.

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.