These animals are swimming in some highly toxic water
July 17, 2013 3:42 PM   Subscribe

For the past several months, manatees, dolphins, and pelicans have been dying by the hundreds in Florida's Indian River Lagoon.

The Indian River Lagoon is among the locations with the highest biodiversity in the continental USA. The NOAA has declared an Unusual Marine Mammal Mortality Event. They note that most recent UMMMEs have been related to algal blooms, and a report in today's Tampa Bay Times points in that direction, possibly due to the city of Vero Beach "injecting treated sewage into the aquifer". A reader of the Treasure Coast Palm sent in a photo of a "black goo" covering the beach.

Algal blooms, fed by sewage and agricultural runoff, are becoming increasingly common and are expected to continue to proliferate as global temperatures rise.
posted by junco (22 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's more info about deep-well injection of treated sewage into the aquifer.

This seems like a Thing in Florida. Wow.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:47 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Very sad stuff. The thing about being an aquatic ecologist is there's always plenty of stuff for us to study, but it's all super depressing.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, just about everything in Florida is full of shit, huh?
posted by FatherDagon at 3:57 PM on July 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

Who in the hell thinks it's a good idea, in any fucking way, to inject sewage into the aquifer? I mean, the optimal disposal is treatment and separation. The sub-optimal is to let it flow into open-air waterways, like we do here in St. Louis when the creeks overfill. Injecting it into the aquifer is beyond even the worst brainstorming session. It's like you have some asbestos insulation, and your solution is to use compressed air to blow it out the window. Holy shit.
posted by notsnot at 4:01 PM on July 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

If the sewage is treated enough, what would be the problem with pumping it into an aquifer?

From the links, it seems like they're not quite sure what's going on yet.
posted by demiurge at 4:03 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Because even treated sewage is basically concentrated fertilizer. It encourages growth of things like algae, which in turn produce toxins. In a relatively contained area like a lagoon, this can be disastrous.
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would like to point out that in my experience, the employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are by and large smart and passionate, and not full of shit. Unfortunately, the rest of the state's government is, and the FWC is dealing with another 10% budget cut this year and Governor Scott vetoed $2 million in special funding that would have gone to study the problem (and the fact that the generally malevolent Florida legislature actually passed such a measure at all speaks volumes -- not to mention that Scott then vetoed it).

And, notsnot, what a coincidence that you liken the problem to asbestos -- a product which, I have been told many times by conservative family members from Florida, is actually basically safe and is only controlled because of a meddling nanny-state government.
posted by junco at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Oops, the "10% budget cut" link is from a decade ago, under Bush. I was thinking of the 30% cutbacks to the state's (closely-related) Water Management District administrations. Such reductions in funding have been ongoing.
posted by junco at 4:18 PM on July 17, 2013

The Blue is starting to look like Fark with all the stupid FL stories. Ugh.

Also, the TBT's Craig Pittman is one of the last truly great journalists in the south (maybe the whole country) producing stories on all of the ecological disaster happening around us.
posted by photoslob at 4:19 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Who in the hell thinks it's a good idea, in any fucking way, to inject sewage into the aquifer?

This depends entirely on how thoroughly the water has been treated. Given that there are plenty of places with toilet-to-tap sewage treatment and, indeed, that this is something we would usually see as a Good Thing I think there's a bit of a knee-jerk response going on here. Replenishing aquifers is very much a Good Thing--much, much better than draining them and pumping the water out to sea.
posted by yoink at 4:31 PM on July 17, 2013

If the sewage is treated enough, what would be the problem with pumping it into an aquifer?

It depends whether or not they are doing tertiary treatment (which results basically in "clean" water).

So, to get rid of the "treatment" euphemism, which basically obscures what is happening, anything less than that is sewage. So why pump it into an aquifer?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:32 PM on July 17, 2013

On a brighter note, when sea levels rise later this century, Florida will be mostly underwater where we can't fuck it up any more.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:36 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

"injecting treated sewage into the aquifer".

And thus the human centipede bent back on itself until its head found its own ass, giving birth to a nightmarish caricature of the Ouroboros slowly pumping shit and poison through the closed loop of Florida's drinking water supply forever.

All joking aside, if and when sewage is treated to the point where it's essentially clean water again I'm all for this technique of injecting it into back into an acquifer. It's way better than pouring it into the ocean from where it may not return for a long time (I remember reading something a while back about shifting precipitation patterns in the wake of climate change that indicate increasing precipitation over the oceans and decreasing precipitation over land masses... no time to look it up right now though).

That said, I suspect that they are not going to do it right, that corners and costs will be cut and that they'll be poisoning the well they're drinking from.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:49 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been to the Indian River lagoon twice, once in 2010 and again in 2011. It quickly became my favorite place in the world. Not too touristy, lots of cool places to explore on your own if you're a wildlife lover. I saw dolphins hunting that were close enough to touch had I wanted to, and manatees that scared the shit out of me when wading into the lagoon ("oh shit, WTF is that giant thing that snuck up behind me?!" I levitate out of the water.) for a bird enthusiast, there are so many birds that hang out almost in arms reach. For the fish lover, you see sting rays aplenty, and it is home to two species of seahorses, and is a bulshark nursery. Turtles nest on the beaches near there, and while I didn't see any babies, I saw a bunch of their scuttle marks heading to the sea.

But there was a dark side to it to, so much of the area is full of trash from tourists and careless fishermen. The worst is the fishing line fishermen just dump anywhere. I cut away and threw out any I saw. But everywhere there is access to water, there is litter. People will stop, fish, and leave all the bottles, wrappers and misc other trash right where they consumed it. I even made a point of bringing garbage bags on my second trip so I could do some cleanup (I know, I'm only one person but my understanding is many locals do as well.)

In 2011 there were far fewer animals, though we eventually saw some dolphins and a whole pod of manatees, including 3 babies. At the time the locals said it was a particularly bad heat wave (it felt warmer than the previous year but I wasn't sure until it was confirmed.) It wasn't until 3 months later when I heard from a researcher about the algae bloom that was causing trouble.

I had no idea that had gotten worse. It makes me really sad to think the dolphins and manatee I saw might be dead, or that my little paradise might be a desolate wasteland by the time I get a chance to go back.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Hey instead of stationing people and drones near the Mexico border let's station them around natural attractions to beat the shit out of anyone who thinks it's OK to litter. That felt good to type but perhaps outrageous percentage of asset fines would work. The New "What the fuck is your Deal?"
posted by lordaych at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

If I had to hazard a guess, having grown up on the Indian River, injection into the aquifer of treated sewage would probably be linked to ameliorating some of the effects of salt-water intrusion into the aquifer itself, an ongoing and worsening issue. We yank water out faster than it's replenished, and heavier saltwater from either side of the peninsula replaces it, ruining vast stretches of drinking water, dozens of miles inland. But that's just a guess. I'm on the opposite corner of the continent now.

So sad to to hear this about the Indian River. They mention it's a lagoon, but don't dwell on the ramifications—at 150 miles long and unbelievably, ridiculously shallow, it has almost no tidal flow at all, which is what really exacerbates the pollution issues with the Indian River. It's entirely dependent on the plant life in it for cleaning the water. Even in healthy times, the smell of seaweed along the shore rotting in summer sun is enough to stun a hog at fifty paces. My god it is eye-wateringly bad.

Despite the smell at the edges, it's a real ecological treasure and heartbreaking to hear it's doing so poorly.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Florida has now officially outTexaned Texas.
posted by HyperBlue at 6:35 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

They have to outlaw women first: TEXAS WEIGHS BAN ON WOMEN

posted by cjorgensen at 6:41 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

On a brighter note, when sea levels rise later this century, Florida will be mostly underwater where we can't fuck it up any more.

That means all of Florida will be driven ashore into the rest of the States.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Florida will be mostly underwater where we can't fuck it up any more.

Ha! Human talent knows no bounds! From oil spills to fission reactors being washed into the sea/melting down the ability of man to make screw it up goes beyond submerging the state.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:01 PM on July 17, 2013

Christ, just read the Gawker article. Florida needs to be taken away from Florida and. They clearly can't handle the responsibility. Between this and the Detroit post, I don't want to be in the USA anymore. . . By the time the political will springs back the other way, all that made Florida good will be dead.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:58 PM on July 18, 2013

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