HOLMES BEACH – Residents turned out in force during a Sept. 24 commission meeting to protest the city’s plans to clean up the waters in Spring Lake after the installation of an aeration system resulted in brown water and a fish kill.
A long-planned bubbling aeration system was turned on with a test start for 30 minutes on Wednesday, Sept. 18, according to engineer Eron Wasserman. He added that when a smell was noticed during the test run from the water, it was decided to turn the aeration system on only for a short time during the early morning hours, working up to running it 24 hours per day. By Saturday morning, calls were coming into the city from the residents surrounding the lake that not only was there a smell, there also was water discoloration and hundreds of dead fish floating on the lake.
Wasserman said that once he received a phone call, he arrived at Spring Lake within an hour and called public works employees to remove the accessible fish from the lake, a task he said was completed on Monday.
The system was turned off until further direction could be received from city leaders.
Environmental expert Chris Byrne, a consultant who helped City Engineer Lynn Burnett develop the city’s remediation plan for Spring Lake, said that the ammonia on the bottom layer of the lake was 10 times higher than it should be and that there is no oxygen in the bottom layer. With the aeration system, the bubbles forced into the lake through the system push the toxic layer of water up to the surface where the toxins escape into the air and the water is oxygenated. By mixing the water column continuously, Byrne said the water would once again become the healthy lake it was before it was polluted by waste spills in 2015 and 2016 from a nearby lift station. In some instances, where the lake is as bad as Spring Lake, fish kills do happen, he said.
“The bottom of the lake is a sewer,” resident Carol Grayson said, adding that she has asthma and the smell coming off the lake was causing breathing problems. Her husband, Boyd Grayson, suggested that city leaders take another look at the drainage trench dug around the lake to stop runoff from surrounding homes. He said that rather than help the situation, the trenches are making runoff problems in the lake worse.
Resident Tim Gibson said he wants a solution to the issues at Spring Lake and for it to once again be a thriving home to fish and other marine life.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful part of this Island,” he said, adding that he doesn’t feel the city’s engineers understand what the previous condition of the lake was before the sewage spills polluted the water.
Commissioners agreed that something needs to be done to help lessen the impact on residents and restated their commitment to cleaning up Spring Lake.
Rather than slowly ramp up to a 24-hour run cycle for the aeration system, commissioners agreed to run the system for a longer period at night for up to two weeks, moving to a 24-hour run time, to expedite the circulation and oxygenation of the water on the bottom of the lake. They also requested daily updates from Wasserman and for the water to be tested weekly with a comprehensive plan on how to bring the water quality back to a clear, healthy condition. Additionally, once the water quality begins to return, Byrne said healthy bacteria will form or can be artificially introduced to the lake’s ecosystem that will slowly eat away at the organic “muck” on the bottom of the lake.
One question that remained for residents and city leaders alike is whether or not to remove the WaStop valve blocking Spring Lake from receiving tidal flows from Bimini Bay.
The valve was installed by Burnett to prevent flooding through the lake’s water rising due to abnormally high tide events, such as king tides. Nearby residents and Commissioner Rick Hurst questioned whether or not it would be a good idea to open the pipe back up and allow the seawater in to help flush out Spring Lake. Mayor Judy Titsworth said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to expose the bay to the toxic water in Spring Lake. Byrne and Wasserman both said they could not address the issue, with Wasserman adding that Burnett would be needed to provide an expert opinion.
Burnett did not respond to requests for comment.
“The aeration will take time,” Titsworth said to the assembled concerned residents. “It’s going to be bad, but we lived through red tide and we will live through this. We all want to make it right.”