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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith