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Water Supply and the USB, Three Corners Update, and more!

June 15, 2024 Weekly Newsletter


This is the fifth in a series of articles on moving the Urban Service Boundary. The previous articles in this series are available on our website, if you missed them:

  • On sprawl vs. density here.

  • On why we need careful planning and deliberation here.

  • A deep dive into what density means here.

  • How moving the UBS will not help with Affordable Housing here.


The Impact of Moving the Urban Service Boundary

on Indian River County's Water Supply


The proposal to expand the Urban Service Boundary (USB) in Indian River County has raised significant concerns about its potential impact on the region's water supply. This discussion overlooks critical issues related to water resource management and environmental sustainability. While working on the USB Study, the IRC Utilities Department is developing an Integrated Water Master Plan, which will answer some questions about the county’s capacity to expand. While we wait for that study, here are some reasons that moving the USB could be detrimental to Indian River County's water supply.


Water as a Limited Resource

Indian River County relies heavily on its aquifers for drinking water. The primary sources are the Surficial Aquifer and the Upper Floridan Aquifer. The Surficial Aquifer, which provides two-thirds of Vero Beach’s water, is vulnerable to contamination from surface activities, while the Upper Floridan Aquifer, used by both the city and county, is deeper and requires significant treatment due to its high chloride content.


The county’s water resources are already under pressure. The Floridan Aquifer extends beyond Florida, sharing water with Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. This shared resource means that any depletion or contamination affects a much larger region.


Challenges in Water Management

Expanding the USB would likely lead to increased development, putting further strain on these water sources. The second article in this newsletter goes more into the specifics of Indian River County's water use and how they are looking to increase it as well as the process to do so.


Our water situation is compounded by the need to manage waste from water treatment processes, including brine from reverse osmosis systems, which presents environmental challenges. Eventually, the county may need to consider even more advanced water recycling methods for drinking water.


Environmental and Economic Implications

The environmental impact of expanding the USB includes the risk of over-extraction of water from aquifers, leading to issues such as saltwater intrusion, which can contaminate freshwater supplies. This is particularly concerning given the projections of rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events, both of which can exacerbate water management challenges.


From an economic perspective, the costs associated with expanding water infrastructure to support new developments outside the USB are significant. These include not only the direct costs of building new water treatment facilities but also the long-term costs of maintaining and operating these facilities as well as staffing them, which are often passed on to residents.


Learning from Other Regions

The Western United States provides a cautionary tale. Regions like California have experienced severe droughts, leading to stringent water usage restrictions and significant economic and environmental consequences. These examples highlight the importance of sustainable water management practices and the risks associated with overdevelopment in areas with limited water resources.


Conclusion

Expanding the Urban Service Boundary in Indian River County poses significant risks to the region’s water supply and environmental health. Instead of pursuing boundary expansion, we should focus on sustainable development practices within the existing boundary.


 

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Regulatory Agencies and Future Water Supply


While talking about water supply, we thought it was a good idea to help educate on the process for how the state's water wealth is spent. There are a lot of facets to it and we hope this primer helps explain the basics of how it all works.


Regulatory Oversight

Water resources in Indian River County are regulated by several agencies at different levels:

  1. Local Level: The IRC Utilities Department oversees the provision of water services to residents and manages the infrastructure required for water distribution and treatment within the county. The City of Vero Beach also has a water utility and service area.

  2. Regional Level: The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) is responsible for issuing consumptive use permits (CUPs), and Environmental Resource Permits (ERPs) as well as overseeing the sustainable management of water resources, including groundwater withdrawals and surface water usage.

  3. State Level: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regulates water quality standards, enforces environmental laws, and oversees statewide water resource management in collaboration with regional water management districts.

  4. Federal Level: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national water quality standards and regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters. The EPA works in conjunction with state and regional agencies to enforce the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, ensuring that water quality meets health and environmental standards.


Approval Process for Water Supply Expansion

To expand the water supply, Indian River County (IRC) must obtain approvals from various regulatory bodies. The process involves:

  • Permit Applications: The county needs to apply for new or modified Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs) from the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to increase allowable water withdrawals. This is a critical step to ensure that any additional water usage is legally sanctioned and environmentally sustainable.

  • Environmental Assessments: Conducting comprehensive environmental impact studies is necessary to assess the effects of increased water usage on local ecosystems. These assessments evaluate potential contamination risks, the sustainability of water sources, and the overall impact on the environment.

  • Infrastructure Development: Planning and constructing new facilities or upgrading existing ones to handle increased water demand is required. This development must comply with regulatory standards and receive approval from relevant agencies, including local government bodies and the SJRWMD.


The county’s current infrastructure can handle about 12.8 million gallons per day. However, the IRC Utilities Department is applying for an increase in their permit to handle up to 16 million gallons per day to accommodate future needs. This process involves thorough review and compliance with environmental regulations to ensure sustainable water management.


Challenges Despite Abundant Rainfall

Despite receiving an average of almost 55 inches of rain annually, Florida faces water supply challenges due to several factors:

  • Population Growth: Rapid population growth increases water demand, putting pressure on existing water resources and infrastructure.

  • Environmental Concerns: Protecting natural ecosystems and maintaining water quality require careful management and restrictions on water withdrawals.

  • Seasonal Variability: Rainfall is not evenly distributed throughout the year, leading to periods of water scarcity during dry seasons.


While expanding the Urban Service Boundary might seem like a viable solution to accommodate growth in Indian River County, it poses significant risks to our water supply and environmental sustainability.


The complex and costly approval process for increasing water supply capacity, coupled with the environmental and economic challenges, underscores the importance of focusing on sustainable development within the existing boundary. By optimizing our current infrastructure and implementing advanced water management practices, we can ensure a stable and safe water supply for future generations while protecting the natural resources that define our community’s quality of life.


 

Oslo Road best place for railroad overpass in Indian River County? (TCPalm) - Vero Beach officials are concerned about a consultant's recommendation to build railroad flyovers near U.S. 1, particularly at Aviation Boulevard, which they believe could disrupt the local way of life and has previously been rejected.


Can our mall be brought back to life? (Vero News) - The owner of Indian River Commons plans to revive the largely deserted Indian River Mall by transforming it into an innovative outdoor shopping and dining destination.


Read the June 2024 Peligram (PIAS) - Pelican Island Audubon Society's June newsletter "The Peligram" highlights the importance of protecting insects to support migratory birds, the summer schedule for Pelican Island Audubon activities, efforts to rejuvenate the Indian River Lagoon and its ecosystems, and various educational and conservation initiatives, including summer camps and field trips.


Show Hometown Love This Summer (Vero Beach Magazine) - Explore fresh experiences in IRC this summer with activities like visiting Brevard Zoo, catching a sunrise at the beach, attending live outdoor music events, exploring LaPorte Farms and local murals, participating in turtle walks, supporting local high school sports, and enjoying state parks and water activities at the Environmental Learning Center.


One Single Day: Red Snapper Anglers in Atlantic Get One Day (TCPalm) - Recreational anglers in Atlantic waters from Key West to North Carolina will have only one day, July 12, to fish for and keep red snapper, while the commercial season begins July 8 and lasts until January 1, 2025, or until the catch limit is reached.


Keeping Cool in the Treasure Coast Heat (TCPalm) - As temperatures across the Treasure Coast hit record highs, residents are keeping cool by visiting local pools, playing in interactive fountains, taking shaded walks, and enjoying beach days.


Concern over Sebastian River Hospital grows (Vero News) - Employees at Sebastian River Medical Center are increasingly anxious about whether Steward Healthcare can make payroll amid bankruptcy proceedings, with staff overworked, basic supplies scarce, and patient care compromised.


Terrible News For Florida Arts Organizations (Ballet Vero Beach) - The governor of Florida vetoed all arts grants in the state for next year, cutting $38,000 from Ballet Vero Beach's funding despite a projected $17 billion state budget, reflecting a disturbing trend in reduced arts funding.


 

What's Going On with the Three Corners?


After years of planning, the Vero Beach City Council disqualified SuDa Inc., the chosen developer for the Three Corners project, due to unauthorized communication with the council. In an emergency meeting, the council voted 3-1 to start the selection process over. The decision was driven by the need to maintain the integrity and transparency of the process.


The council's decision means they will issue a new Request for Proposals (RFP) and open the project to new and previous applicants. This restart aims to ensure a fair and unbiased selection process for the redevelopment of the 30-acre site, which includes plans for restaurants, shops, a marina, and a hotel. The city is committed to moving quickly to get the project back on track while adhering to the proper procedures.


More information available in the local press: The Press Journal, Fox29, and CBS12.





 

When lobbyists write the legislation, the people get more problems (VoteWater.org) - A new Florida law, heavily influenced by lobbyists from a major homebuilder, mandates expedited building permits and private contractor reviews, likely exacerbating sprawl and environmental degradation under the guise of expanding affordable housing.


Is wet weather in South Florida impacting Lake Okeechobee water levels? (WPTV) - Recent heavy rains in South Florida have saturated areas south of Lake Okeechobee, hindering water movement from the lake, but the lake's water level remains comfortably low at 12.7 feet, with only a slight expected rise due to inflow from the Kissimmee Valley.


South Florida rains flood Miami, Fort Lauderdale (Axios) - Torrential downpours in South Florida have caused life-threatening flooding, prompting emergency declarations and numerous flash flood warnings, with rainfall totals nearing 12 inches and more expected, severely disrupting transportation and forcing school and office closures.


Triton Submarines Designing Submersible to Head Down to the Titanic (TCPalm) - Triton Submarines CEO Patrick Lahey will join Ohio billionaire Larry Connor on a planned voyage to the Titanic wreckage in a custom submersible designed for deep-sea research, aiming to demonstrate safer and more reliable technology following the OceanGate Titan implosion in 2023.


McKee Botanical Garden Waterlily Collection Receives International Certification of Excellence (TCPalm) - McKee Botanical Garden's waterlily collection has been awarded the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society's Certified Collection of Excellence, making it one of only seven collections globally to receive this distinction.


Miami Company Turns Glass into Sand. Could it Rebuild Beaches? (Miami Herald) - Glass for Life, a Miami-based company, aims to address Florida's beach sand shortage by recycling glass bottles into sand, offering an environmentally friendly alternative for coastal restoration and construction while reducing landfill waste.


Florida City Suffering Drinking Water Shortage (Newsweek) - West Palm Beach is addressing a drinking water shortage caused by record-high temperatures and low seasonal rainfall by pumping water from underground wells and enforcing strict water use restrictions to conserve the supply.


Intensifying Tropical Storms Threaten Seabirds, New Research Shows (Inside Climate News) - New research indicates that increasing tropical storm intensity and frequency are more devastating to seabird populations than previously thought, with a 2023 cyclone wiping out 80-90% of three seabird species on Bedout Island, highlighting the vulnerability of these species to climate change.


 


The Everglades: Then and Now


The side-by-side maps of the Greater Everglades ecosystem show how water flow has drastically changed over time. Historically, water flowed naturally from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, with no man-made connections disrupting the system. There were no sugarcane fields or significant developments.


Today, the Everglades are altered by canals, levees, and water management structures that control the movement of water. These changes force water into ecosystems that didn't need it, creating problems. Industrial sugarcane farming south of Lake Okeechobee has also created a bottleneck, restricting the flow of clean water needed for the southern Everglades.

Florida's population has grown to over 22 million, leading to irreversible changes in the natural system. However, the future of Florida relies on the survival and restoration of the Everglades. This is crucial not just for wildlife but also for drinking water, flood risk reduction, and climate change protection.


Friends of the Everglades advocates for nature-based restoration efforts to reverse human-caused damage and restore the Everglades to a more natural state.


You can find interactive maps and more information on the Friends of the Everglades website under the Everglades Learning tab. These maps of the historical flow and the altered flow are useful for learning about this unique ecosystem and the efforts to protect it.

IRNA's January 2025 Luncheon will feature Eve Samples, Executive Director of Friends of the Everglades. Stay tuned for more information as we approach next season!


 

Human-Made Noise Is Harming Ocean Life. Climate Change Could Make It Worse (Inside Climate News) - Human-made noise in the ocean, primarily from shipping and industrial activities, disrupts marine life by interfering with crucial behaviors like mating and navigation, and climate change could exacerbate this issue by altering how sound travels underwater, making it imperative to adopt measures to reduce underwater noise.


Leafy Vegetables Found to Contain Tire Additives (Environmental News Network) - Scientists have discovered that leafy vegetables contain chemicals from car tires, highlighting that tire wear releases particles that pollute the air and waterways, posing a significant environmental and health concern.


Why a New Method of Growing Food on Mars Matters More on Earth (Grist) - Research led by astrobiologist Rebeca Gonçalves demonstrates that the ancient Maya farming technique of intercropping can significantly improve crop yields in simulated Martian soil, offering potential solutions for addressing degraded soils and food security on Earth as climate change exacerbates agricultural challenges.


Keeping Stormwater at Bay: a Brooklyn Green Roof Offers a Look at a Climate Resilient Future (Inside Climate News) - The Kingsland Wildflower Green Roof in Brooklyn serves as a model for climate resilience by using green infrastructure to manage stormwater, mitigate pollution, and educate the community about environmental sustainability amidst heavy industrial activity.


How the Recycling Symbol Got America Addicted to Plastic (Grist) - The iconic recycling symbol has lost its meaning due to misleading labeling and a broken recycling system, contributing to public confusion and making it difficult to recycle effectively, especially with plastics.


A Report Looks at Major Companies' Plastic Promises and Finds Them Lacking (Grist) - Major companies are falling short on their plastic waste reduction efforts, with most setting low targets, making slow progress, and focusing more on replacing virgin plastic with recycled content rather than reducing overall plastic use, as highlighted by a new report from As You Sow.


Cemeteries Can Be Damaged by Climate Change—and Provide Climate Refuge (Inside Climate News) - Extreme weather events are increasingly damaging cemeteries, but they can also provide climate refuges by protecting wildlife, reducing urban heat, and hosting renewable energy projects like solar panels.


What Can You Do with a Degree in Degrowth? (Grist) - Graduates of the world's first master's program in degrowth, launched at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, face the challenge of integrating degrowth principles into traditional career paths, with many finding roles in policy, advocacy, academia, and activism, emphasizing community and sustainable practices over conventional corporate ambitions.


 

Want your voice to be heard? Use this link to easily contact elected officials—from your city council to the President. Your voice can make a real impact. While the IRNA may occasionally prompt you to contact specific officials about urgent issues, we keep this list handy for your convenience. Can't find who you're looking for? Just let us know; we're here to help connect you with the right people.


 


 







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