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Indian River Lagoon: background and history
Blend salty ocean water with freshwater from rivers and creeks and you get an estuary. The Indian River Lagoon — the most biologically diverse estuary in North America — straddles 156 miles of Florida’s east coast, from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County, south to the southern boundary of Martin County.
The lagoon has faced challenges over the years. By the 1970s, 75 percent of lagoon salt marshes were lost when dikes were built to separate 40,400 acres from the waterway to control mosquito breeding, which eliminated juvenile fish nursery grounds. In addition, freshwater discharges from St. Johns River marshes and Lake Okeechobee degraded shellfish habitat and carried soils and pollutants (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) into the lagoon, fostering algal growth and killing seagrasses. Wastewater and stormwater discharges have deposited freshwater and pollutants, further promoting algal growth and seagrass destruction.
The St. Johns River Water Management District has worked with federal, state and local agencies to:
- Designate the lagoon as a Surface Water Improvement and Management Act basin in 1987.
- Create the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program (NEP) in 1990, which the district sponsored until 2015.
- Eliminate effluent discharges to the lagoon from more than 40 wastewater facilities.
- Reconnect more than 31,600 acres of impounded salt marshes through 2012.
- Develop stormwater treatment systems, where more than a million pounds of sediments have been prevented from entering the lagoon since 1989.
- Reduce freshwater discharges from the St. Johns River into the lagoon.
- Buy 52,600 acres of environmentally endangered land within the lagoon’s watershed.
- Remove more than 95,000 cubic yards of muck from Melbourne’s Crane Creek in 1998, more than 380,000 cubic yards of muck were removed from Turkey Creek from 1999 to 2001, and about 2 million cubic yards were removed from the St. Sebastian River from 2006 to 2009. Muck removal is also anticipated for the Eau Gallie River.
Additional work that is planned includes:
- Treat stormwater discharges from developed areas to reduce pollution.
- Divert the flow of major stormwater drainage systems away from the lagoon.
- Continue to remove muck from the lagoon and its tributaries.
- Restore and protect natural habitat, including reconnecting an additional 7,000 acres of impounded salt marshes.
- Monitor water quality, drainage and seagrasses, and identify any impacts from septic tanks.
Updated on 9-30-2015