There continue to be people promoting the creation of a new inlet to increase the amount of tidal connection between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. The idea is that a new inlet will increase the amount of flushing of the lagoon’s polluted waters, thereby using dilution to decrease the impacts of the polluted water in the lagoon. To some, this is seen as the silver bullet to fix the Indian River Lagoon’s problems. It is not. In fact, a new inlet may cause more problems than its proponents think it will fix. Here are the top 4 problems we see with the idea of a new inlet.
1 – There comes a point where the amount of flushing just doesn’t matter. Let’s take Tampa Bay as an example. Tampa Bay has a wide mouth and deep channels coming into it, and a good tide range. This means that Tampa Bay is very highly flushed. It’s probably the most well flushed estuary in the state of Florida. Despite this, nearly all of Tampa Bay’s seagrass died off a few decades ago because of too many nutrients and pollutants coming into the Bay. What saved Tampa Bay and allowed the seagrasses to recover? They passed strict water management measures to reduce the input of nutrients and pollutants. Only then was the water healthy enough to support seagrass. And even so, they’ve spent years and a lot of money restoring the seagrass. Short version – Tampa Bay has maximum flushing and still had to fix the nutrient issue in order to recover.
It’s also pretty clear from the aerial video of Sebastian Inlet that we recently posted that a new inlet won’t help matters. Despite the tidal flows at Sebastian Inlet, the brown tide remains widespread at the Inlet. Plus, before the brown tide struck, we found benthic (living on the bottom) algae on flats near the inlet where seagrass used to grow. And that’s the ‘cleanest’ water available.
The premise that Dilution is the Solution to Pollution wasn’t valid when it was first tried, and isn’t valid now. The Indian River Lagoon will only be fixed when the sources of the problems are fixed.
2 – Putting in an inlet will allow the resource managers and politicians to hit the snooze button on addressing the causes of too many nutrients entering the Indian River Lagoon. In a best-case scenario, a new inlet will make things look good for a while. But this ‘improvement’ will be false, only delaying another crash (see Tampa Bay, above). In the meantime, the problems of too many nutrients, the poor management of freshwater flows, the inflow of pollutants will not be addressed, so they will continue to get worse. And with more time elapsed, they will become more expensive to fix. The politicians who have refused to protect the resource that supports the fisheries and tourism economies are looking for any excuse to kick the can down the road. Don’t let them do it. They will use a new inlet as political cover to continue to not take the action necessary to fix the problems impacting the Indian River Lagoon.
3 – Manmade inlets cause beach erosion. Period. This is because the inlet, and the jetties that are constructed to keep the inlet open, interrupt the transport of sand along shore. The transport of sand is a natural process, it’s part of the dynamic world of beaches. When that flow of sand is interrupted, erosion on the down-current side of the inlet can become very bad. The last thing the Space Coast needs is more beach erosion. Brevard County already spends 10s of millions of dollars a year on beach renourishment. That bill will only get bigger if a new inlet is created.
4 – Creating a new inlet will only expand the reach of the problems in the Indian River Lagoon. Think about it. All of that nasty water that people already don’t want to swim in will be pouring out the inlet onto the beaches. If the water along the beaches is tested, it will surely result in beach closures. This will threaten everyone from local surfers to tourists and the hotels and restaurants where they spend their money. This was an issue way back in 2005, when Surfrider Foundation expressed concern about the health of the beaches along the Space Coast. (link to article that is attached).
Again, it goes back to fixing the source of the problems, which is the mismanagement of the water entering the Indian River Lagoon. A new inlet is like putting a bandaid on cancer – it won’t address the cause of the Indian River Lagoon’s sickness.