INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Following local action to ban the use of “Class B biosolids” on Indian River County land, Florida Representative Erin Grall has introduced a state bill to address the problem.
Rep. Grall is a Vero Beach native who represents District 54 in the Florida House of Representatives. HB 405 prohibits the Dept. of Environmental Protection from authorizing the “disposal of certain wastewater biosolids within the watershed.”
“Class B biosolids are solid, semi-solid, or liquid materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage sludge from sewage treatment facilities,” said County Attorney Dylan Reingold. “Class B biosolids contain phosphorus and nitrogen, which promote algae blooms in surrounding estuaries and watersheds.”
“In short, it is the stuff that is flushed down the toilet and treated to some extent at a wastewater treatment facility,” Commissioner Bob Solari said.
The waste being spread doesn’t come from Indian River County. It comes from other counties to the south. In 2017, 89 percent of all the biosolids land applied in the upper St. Johns River basin came from outside the basin.
Indian River County buries its treated biosolids at the county landfill.
According to Vincent Burke, the county’s Director of Utility Services, the increase of phosphorus levels in Blue Cypress Lake “appear to have a strong correlation to the increase in Class B biosolids that have been applied in the vicinity of the lake.”
Until recently, Class B biosolids were being applied on property near Blue Cypress Lake. Indian River County Commissioners and the Fellsmere City Council each have passed two six-month bans.
The St. Johns Water Management District said last year that phosphorous at Blue Cypress Lake had reached the highest concentration in 39 years.
Scientists from the Ocean Research & Conservation Association said they found “extremely toxic levels of microcystin measuring at 4,700 parts per billion in Blue Cypress Lake. The World Health Organization sets the limit for microcystin in water used for recreation at 10 ppb.” ORCA speculated that the excessive nutrients entering the lake could be the cause of last year’s toxic algae bloom.
HB 405 requires the state to “develop an implementation schedule establishing 5-year, 10-year, and 15-year measurable milestones and targets to achieve the total maximum daily load no more than 20 years after adoption of the plan.”
The bill also provides state grant money for private land projects that “reduce pollutant loadings or concentrations within a basin, or that reduce the volume of harmful discharges by one or more of the following methods are eligible for grants under this section from coordinating agencies: (a) Restoring the natural hydrology of the basin; (b) Restoring wildlife habitat or impacted wetlands; (c) Reducing peak flows after storm events; or (d) Increasing aquifer recharge.”
Rep. Grall’s bill also requires the St. Johns River Upper Basin Watershed Management Action Plan to include recommendations that “consider and balance water supply, flood control, estuarine salinity, aquatic habitat, and water quality considerations.”
The bill does allow the use of class B biosolids if “the applicant can affirmatively demonstrate that the nutrients in the biosolids will not add to nutrient loadings in the watershed. This demonstration shall be based on achieving a net balance between nutrient imports relative to exports on the permitted application site.”