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Nancy Smith

Okeechobee Algal Bloom Came from the North, Let's Set the Record Straight

August 5, 2017 - 12:00pm

If you followed Thursday's short South Florida Water Management District Governing Board meeting, you got the facts, not the bull, about where the algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee came from.

I bring this up now because since I wrote about Sewall's Point residents' preference for keeping their septic tanks, I've heard from South Florida readers who actually believe the bloom that began in the lake in June "proves the algae is coming from Pahokee, not from poop." (Click here to see my Aug. 4 column if you haven't read it.) 

Well, no -- it proves no such thing. 

You have only to watch and listen to Water Resources Division Director Terrie Bates' monthly ecological report before the SFWMD governors. It won't take too much of your time. You'll find it here, starting at about minute 9 on the video.

It will tell you the bloom was caused by significant nutrient-rich inflows from tributaries NORTH of Lake Okeechobee. Nowhere near Pahokee, nowhere near the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Have a look, too, at the charts in Bates' presentation. Two of the most pertinent ones, as distributed Thursday by EAA Farmers, Inc., are shown at bottom of the page.

Said Bates, the bottom line is that starting the first week of June, major inflows from the northern tributaries -- Taylor Creek, Kissimmee River, Nubbin Slough, Indian Prairie and Fisheating Creek -- were “flushing nutrients” into the lake, and stations measuring high chlorophyll, the indicator for algae, correlated with the location of the tributaries (Exhibit 1 in the chart below).  While chlorophyll readings above 40 micrograms per liter indicate algae, one station in the northern section of the lake measured above 100 micrograms per liter (Exhibit 2).

Bates said this year has shown the fluctuating wet and dry periods Florida experiences. So far, this has been a year with low lake levels; no discharges to the coasts have been needed, unlike last year. But algae within the lake caused by the accumulation of nutrient loading from the north remains an enormous problem.

This is why I still believe the Florida Legislature was on the wrong track this year when it devoted hours of debate to spending billions on a storage reservoir 60 miles south of Martin County that would store only a fraction of the excess water added to Lake Okeechobee in 2016. It does nothing to treat the water, and will not help us “store our way” out of the problem.

Imagine if the Legislature had spent its time focusing on the heart of the problem: the more than 95 percent of nutrients and water originating NORTH of the lake. If we were to store and treat water there, discharges would be a thing of the past and algal blooms might never make it Martin County.

Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, Inc., an organization of farmers and supporters of the farming community in the Everglades Agricultural Area, said basically the same thing in a press statement after the Board meeting.

“We are seeing the result of what we warned about during session," Alvarez said. "Environmental special interest groups and Senate leaders spent all of their time and energy pushing a myopic plan focused solely on southern storage to put a Band Aid on a symptom rather than addressing the problem at the source. And now we’re seeing algae in the lake remains a problem in a year when water volume and estuary discharges aren’t a problem.”

It's been discouraging to hear environmental activists, the people so many Floridians trust to stay on top of water issues, talk about septic tank runoff -- raw sewage -- as if it's unimportant to algal blooms or to human health. 2016's nutrient-loading into Treasure Coast waterways was "juiced up" by the nitrogen in sewage. Combined with phosphorus from fertilizer, it was exactly what Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute biologist Brian Lapointe referred to as "a perfect storm." With fecal coliform, he said, the blooms "grew like they were on steroids."

And, by the way, there are plenty of other nasty diseases involving human waste in water that have nothing to do with blue-green algae. Ponder this list from the Environmental Protection Agency and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before you make excuses for septic tanks: Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidiosis, Escherichia coli Diarrhea, Encephalitis, Gastroenteritis, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, Leptospirosis, Methaemoglobinaemia, Poliomyelitis, Poliomyelitis, Shigellosis, Paratyphoid Fever, Typhoid Fever and Yersiniosis.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

 


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Comments

Nancy has it right, Brian laPointe has it right. 20 years ago i worked with laPointe and others on Florida Bay and issues with the Reef. Both had horrible algae blooms. In the need putting the keys on Sewer has nearly erased the problem. This is so easy it is sad. The indian river is most harmed by its resident population.

Nancy great article. This has always been the case. For some reasons the morons in the Everglades Foundation have peddled this "sugar farmers are causing the algae " garbage to the low information citizenry of martin and st Lucie counties. And Lee and collier.

This ongoing debate where people say, " but sewer discharges such and such gallons.... And they leak!" is very frustrating. Of course our sanitary sewers must be maintained and upgraded... It's infrastructure which requires upkeep! However arguing that using septic tanks in tidal coastal areas is better in comparison is ridiculous! Septic experts KNOW onsite systems do not function in high water tables! Arguing, "but sewers malfunction" reminds me of when my children yell, " but he hit me first!". Hitting is wrong, and I don't care who started it. Sewage in our water is wrong, and we have to make responsible choices to fix this mess!

i would give Henry deans point of view 95 % weight and every body else 5%. he ran saint Johns and then south Florida water management district. he has no ax to grind.

I cannot believe that anyone would prefer a septic tank over sanitary solid waste disposal. Perhaps they have been drinking the water.

Perhaps you don't realize that wastewater treatment plants dump 80 million gallons each day into your waterways. While this wastewater treatment is supposed to meet certain standards we know that only within plastic few years have they been treating for nutrient reduction. Septic systems do not discharge into surface water directly

Yes,wastewater treatment plants and the people in charge of lift stations need to be held more accountable and should come under more scrutiny

Residential single family Septic tank systems are fine if you have 5 acres of land that percolates and is nowhere near a water supply, other wise a sanitary system if the only way to go.

Nancy, Good article (again) The flow is from the North (Kissimmee River Valley). About 570 metric tons of Ph per year. The TMDL target is a reduction down to about 100 metric tons a year. More than 90% of inflows to Lake O come from the North- ie the KRV. The last speech I gave as E D of SFWMD in March of 2005 stressed the need to start dealing with storage and treatment North of the Lake (since we were on a relatively good path with CERP via Acceler8. Sadly we know the rest of that story.

Nancy, Good article (again) The flow is from the North (Kissimmee River Valley). About 570 metric tons of Ph per year. The TMDL target is a reduction down to about 100 metric tons a year. More than 90% of inflows to Lake O come from the North- ie the KRV. The last speech I gave as E D of SFWMD in March of 2005 stressed the need to start dealing with storage and treatment North of the Lake (since we were on a relatively good path with CERP via Acceler8. Sadly we know the rest of that story.

The bottom line, Nancy is that the residents of Sewall's Point have become privileged people (in only their own minds) who would rather cast their entire community into jeopardy rather than part with what they all could easily afford to cure the problem. SHAME on Sewall's Point!

You obviously are not as well schooled on the benefits of properly designed, installed and maintained onsite wastewater treatment systems as on the emotional issues. It is your wastewater regardless of the type of treatment.

agreed

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