Vero Beach homeowners hooking up to innovative sewer project designed to help lagoon

PALM BAY, Fla., May 31, 2016 — Homeowners living near the Indian River Lagoon are hooking up to an innovative septic-to-sewer project funded by the St. Johns River Water Management District and the city of Vero Beach that will help improve water quality by reducing nutrients flowing into the lagoon.

“This innovative project reduces the amount of nutrients going into the Indian River Lagoon,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “While stormwater runoff is the most recognized contributor of nutrients to the lagoon, groundwater also seeps into the lagoon, carrying nutrients from faulty septic tanks.”

The Vero Beach Hybrid Septic Tank Effluent Pumping System (STEP) project diverts septic system effluent, currently entering the groundwater along the lagoon, to a central facility for treatment, preventing up to 40,500 pounds of nutrients per year from entering the groundwater.

The project is saving residents thousands of dollars by connecting their septic tanks to a central sewer system, as compared to the costs of traditional septic-to-sewer conversion projects. Residents will be allowed to keep their septic drain fields in place in the event of temporary power outages that would impact the STEP pumping system.

A recent study by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection showed that properties in southern Indian River County built prior to 1983 had little or no treatment of septic system effluent. Approximately1,000 Vero Beach homes built prior to 1983 have similar problems. Some residents on the barrier island have begun to experience septic system failures over the past 18 months brought on, in part, by high groundwater levels during extremely high tides. Of the 902 lots on the barrier island, the new STEP system is available to 456. Thirty-five homes with failing septic systems have been connected on an emergency basis while 10 more connected during building renovations.

The city plans to send a letter describing the incentive package ($3,290 savings) to residents in September.

“Through this partnership with the district, our city could afford to be environmentally active at a price residents can afford,” said Vero Beach Utilities Director Rob Bolton. “I expect a lot of connections will take place once the formal notifications are sent to residents. We have been able to pass on our savings to our customers through this incentive program.”

The total cost of the project is $885,000, with the district providing $292,050 of that funding.