EDGEWATER, Fla. – A record-breaking number of manatees are dying in the Indian River Lagoon in Central Florida. Scientists say they’re starving to death because poor water quality is killing the seagrass they eat. Now, local governments are moving fast to clean the water.
Volusia County broke ground this week on a site off Knapp Avenue in Edgewater that will soon be an advanced water treatment system.
“We’re looking to remove about 5,700 pounds of nitrogen per year and about 1,100 pounds of phosphorus from the Gabordy Canal,” said Benjamin Bartlett, the road and bridges director for the county.
Bartlett said run-off water, filled with chemicals from products like fertilizer, will collect at the site, be treated, flow back through the Gabordy Canal and into the Mosquito Lagoon, which is the northernmost point of the Indian River Lagoon.
“By removing these nutrients we’re going to improve the water quality in the Lagoon, reduce the nutrients that are causes of algae blooms as well as inhibit seagrass growth,” he said.
The seagrass has been rapidly disappearing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data showed as of last week, 866 manatees have died already in Florida this year, shattering all previous records. The majority of those were in the Indian River Lagoon.
Barlett says the $3 million project, covered largely by grants, is the most ambitious and first of its kind from the county.
“It’s set up to where we can monitor the water, sample the water as it’s coming in and leaving,” he said.
He said it’s part of a larger reasonable assurance plan, or RAP, several cities are also involved in to restore the lagoon’s water quality by 2034.
“In the first five years, we’re completing a series of projects then we’re going out and every year we’re measuring the actual water quality in the lagoon to see if we’re having an impact,” he said. “The kind of things that if we can improve will help the manatees thrive.”
Bartlett said this project will take about 18 months to build and complete.