Sept. 9, 2014
~ DEP will dedicate $250,000 annually to local lagoon support organization~
This week Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to commit agency funding to the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program (IRL NEP) in order to further assist the organization as its members seek to take a leadership role in critical lagoon restoration efforts. This funding will supplement technical assistance DEP already provides to the IRL NEP. The organization is experiencing a resurgence in community support as the health of the Indian River Lagoon has suffered in recent years. Empowered by this stakeholder engagement, local officials, volunteers and advocates are working to restructure the organization into a stronger, more effective entity and the state is committed to ensuring its success.
“Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have spoken loud and clear that the health and sustainability of the Indian River Lagoon is a top priority,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Under the Governor’s leadership, DEP is prepared to commit $250,000 annually to the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program to help ensure that this organization regains its footing and remains supported in its efforts to protect the lagoon for generations to come.”
In addition to the state committing $250,000 annually in support of the IRL NEP, the St. Johns River and the South Florida Water Management Districts are also considering funding this critical organization. Both district Governing Boards will discuss lending additional support to the IRL NEP during their respective meetings this week. These funds – along with possible contributions from local governments located throughout the lagoon region – would support activities such as lagoon research, education, protection and restoration efforts. The IRL NEP Advisory Board is expected to meet later this month to discuss their reorganization efforts and possible funding sources.
“I am impressed and appreciative at the level of commitment from both Governor Scott and the Department in support of the Indian River lagoon,” said current IRL NEP Advisory Board Member Bill Kerr.
“I’m very excited to move forward in our efforts with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program,” said Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding. “We’re extremely appreciative of this support from the Governor and from DEP.”
The department’s funding commitment joins other lagoon restoration efforts funded by the Governor and Legislature last session. These critical projects include $20 million in lagoon muck removal projects, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon and more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants awarded to organizations throughout the region.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administers the National Estuary Program. There are 28 estuary programs nationwide, including four in Florida. A non-regulatory body, the IRL NEP was organized and designed by local lagoon advocates to raise awareness about possible threats to the estuary. The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. The lagoon is a critical water body in the state and has experienced excess nutrient pollution in addition to excess freshwater flows for many decades. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage.
Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed restoration efforts and return the lagoon back to its ideal health.