At the end of last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis was joined by Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Sec. Shawn Hamilton and local officials to announce the awards for the Wastewater Grant Program, which was established in the Clean Waterways Act and funded in this year’s budget for projects statewide to reduce nutrient pollution.
Eligible projects include those that upgrade traditional septic systems to include nutrient removal technology, provide advanced wastewater treatment, or convert septic tanks to central sewer. Out of the total $114 million awarded, more than $53 million of the wastewater grants – 46 percent of the funding for Fiscal Year 2021-22 – is being granted to the Indian River Lagoon (IRL).
“Since I first took office, expediting water quality restoration has been one of my top priorities,” said Ron DeSantis. “The Indian River Lagoon covers 40 percent of Florida’s East Coast and is one of our state’s most iconic and critical natural resources, contributing an estimated $2 billion annually for tourism and recreation and $767 million to the marine industry. I am happy to join DEP and project partners here today to celebrate these projects that will help protect and restore the lagoon for future generations.”
“The governor’s commitment and advocacy for water quality in our state has been unwavering,” said Hamilton. “Today we are celebrating a suite of projects that will help prevent or reduce the amount of nutrients going into the Indian River Lagoon, to help reduce the frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms, help restore seagrasses, and protect marine ecosystems. DEP is proud to be a partner in these critical projects, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with local governments to address water quality across the state.”
With this funding, applicants have proposed projects to benefit the IRL by:
Connecting an estimated 3,000 septic tanks to central sewer, resulting in an estimated reduction of more than 62,000 pounds of Total Nitrogen (TN) per year and more than 5,000 pounds of Total Phosphorous (TP) per year.
Upgrading three wastewater treatment facilities, resulting in an estimated reduction of more than 200,000 pounds of TN per year and more than 37,000 pounds of TP per year.
“I was proud to sponsor the Clean Waterways Act which had bipartisan support and implemented major reforms to improve water quality in our state, including the creation of the Wastewater Grant Program at DEP,” said Senator Debbie Mayfield. “Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has tackled the state’s water quality issues head on. The $53 million of projects announced today shows the Governor’s commitment to improving the health of the IRL.”
“The Indian River Lagoon is the lifeblood of Brevard County,” said state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County. “It is our primary source of recreation, tourism, and economic growth. And for far too many years, it has suffered and its future has been ignored. So I am extraordinarily grateful that today Governor DeSantis has worked with all of us in Brevard to deliver on our collective promise to repair and preserve this national treasure.”
The IRL is the most biologically diverse estuary in North America and an important resource for species such as the Florida scrub-jay, manatees and sea turtles. Currently, the water quality of the IRL is impaired for total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP). The nutrients flow into the lagoon from overland runoff, drainage canals, groundwater seepage, and rainfall. Excess nutrients can contribute to increased frequency, duration and intensity of algal blooms and negatively impact the growth of seagrass in the lagoon. Seagrass is the most important resource within the IRL, providing habitat and food for manatees and other species.
DEP’s wastewater grant program is set forth in 403.0673, Florida Statutes. The program prioritizes wastewater projects in basin management action plans, restoration plan areas and rural areas of opportunity and also requires at least a 50 percent match, which may be waived by DEP for rural areas of opportunity.
In June 2021, DEP’s Protecting Florida Together Water Protection Grants portal was open for proposed project information for the wastewater grant program. The portal closed in July 2021, and submitted projects were reviewed by DEP for eligibility, nutrient reductions, project readiness, cost effectiveness, overall environmental benefit, project location, local matching funds, and water savings and water quality improvement.
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