Leaky septic tanks contaminate St. Lucie River

Posted at 8:47 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 08:28:47-04

Water quality on the Treasure Coast remains a hot topic locally and nationally but now there are renewed efforts for a closer look at a major contributor to pollution.

“Even if discharges stop completely you’re still going to have a problem because there is local contamination that has to be addressed in the long term," say Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Local contamination, he speaks of, has long been considered a problem but now fresh evidence is stirring up the water in the north fork of the St Lucie River. It is a body of water so pristine at one time that has now become a murky mess.

“It's heartbreaking, it's heartbreaking,” says local waterfront resident Suzy Dibartolo.

For 40 years she has lived here watching a slice of paradise slip away. Proactively she sold her boat and stored her kayaks.

“I wouldn't dare go in it, I really wouldn't,” she says.

A problem has been seeping quietly from 32,000 backyards in martin county especially those next to the shoreline. Dr. Brian Lapointe of FAU Harbor Branch took hundreds of water samples from the St Lucie River last year and discovered an eye opening revelation.

“We found very high concentrations of fecal bacteria coming from septic tanks,” says Lapointe.

He says sewerage is seeping into the river day by day and has been for years. Only now are the effects so devastating. It’s a massive issue shadowed by the impact of Lake Okeechobee discharges which have gained all the bad publicity as of late. Lapointe’s evidence proves septic tanks are equally to blame.

“What we've seen is this problem has grown worse year by year to the point now parts of the St Lucie River on the north fork you can't touch the water,” says Lapointe.

Data and evidence from his septic tank study were handed over to Martin county. Commissioners have already begun a multimillion dollar solution. Move each community from septic tanks to sewer lines thus eradicating the problem.

“It's a full time job,” says Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith.

Smith has been spearheading the massive septic to sewer project which is underway in three areas: North River Shores, Golden Gate and one in Palm City. It costs each homeowner roughly $8,000 and that’s cheap considering grants and funds have dropped the price from $15,000. The time it could take to complete could be ten years.

“The river is the key component, if it’s not healthy, if it’s not clean then people won't come they won't stay,” says Smith.

Nor will the wildlife like pelicans, seagulls, manatees and dolphins which have all vanished. A clear sign the future of this water lies in a dark cloudy mess.

“I refuse to give up on it, I love it, this is where I want to stay until they drag me out dead really,” says Dibartolo.

To view Dr. Brian Lapointe’s study conducted in 2015 which produced samples of water and helped lead to the changes underway, CLICK HERE.