Tag Archives: why our waterways have become so impaired

History Helps Us “See,” Septic to Sewer Conversion, SLR/IRL

Aerial of Lighthouse Point Feb. 8, 1965, Ruhnke Collection, Thurlow Archives.

At my request, my mother has been sharing historic real estate photos. Regarding today’s aerials, it seems the perfect time to broach the controversial subject of “septic to sewer.”

When I first saw the photographs of Lighthouse Point, I said “What is that?” I thought the land had been created by fill, but then realized it was natural lands filled and dredged. This practice was very common before the 1970s and happened at various locations throughout Martin County, but was more prevalent in destinations like Ft Lauderdale and Cape Coral. Wherever this land use was completed, early photographs allow us to see how strange, how vulnerable,  how naked, the land looks. And we can see its connection, like a sponge, over the surrounding waters…

Let’s take a closer peek at this 1965 photo of Lighthouse Point in the St Lucie River. In 1965, developers had no concerns about nutrient pollution, and every property of course had its own septic tank.

Lighthouse Point/Seagate Harbor 1968, Ruhnke Collection, Thurlow Archives

Fortunately, in the 2000s, Martin County did help residents of Lighthouse Point and neighboring Seagate Harbor, convert from septic to sewer, along with other “hot-spot” communities, as documented in this outstanding presentation by former Martin County Ecosystems Manager, Deborah Drum.

http://riverscoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/DDRUM-Rivers-Coalition-June-2017.pdf

Red ballon shows Lighthouse Point/Seagate Harbor neighborhoods in Palm City
See yellow dots, slide from Deb Drum’s presentation of completed projects.

But there is more work to do.

As we know, Septic to Sewer is one of those subjects people passionately fight over as we try to understand why our waterways have become so impaired. This was the case in my own hometown of Sewall’s Point.

Famous for the first strong fertilizer ordinance on Florida’s east coast in 2010, a year of my mayorhood, The Commission flipped this environmental streak, and last year, when I was off the commission, following much back and forth and very poor communication, ~in spite of heroic efforts, but a totally exhausted, confused and furious public, decided not to work with Martin County for a partial sewer conversion. The backlash to this is far-reaching.

I agree that most of Sewall’s Point is not dredge and fill, but some is, and with out a doubt, old septic tanks in flood zones along the Indian River Lagoon are not a good idea.

In Sewall’s Point, and all Martin County residential areas we can “feel better about ourselves” as we know that  Agriculture is the primary nitrogen and phosphorus polluter into our waterways, (and they need to get to work!) by about 88% according to Dr Gary Goforth. (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/phosphorus-loading-by-land-use-what-fdep-isnt-telling-us-gary-goforth/) Nonetheless, this does not mean we should act too self-righteous to change out ourselves.

As we all begrudgingly work to lessen nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) into our waterways, it is helpful to look backwards as we plan for the future. Thanks mom for sharing your photos; history helps us “see.”

Links:

What is nutrient pollution? EPA https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution

Martin County Sewer Conversion: https://www.martin.fl.us/SeptictoSewer

City of Stuart Sewer Conversion: http://cityofstuart.us/index.php/en/sewer-expansion/sewer-expansion-maps

Scientific paper: Earth Sci 2017 estimation of nitrogen load from septic systems
to surface water bodies in St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin, Florida, Ming Ye1 • Huaiwei Sun2,1 • Katie Hallas3: http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~mye/pdf/paper62.pdf

Sandra Henderson Thurlow, local historian: http://www.sandrathurlow.com