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Pollutants, Toxic Blue-Green Algae and Red Tide: How Do We Restore Health to Our Waterways?

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Blue Cypress Lake

In 2020, we were consumed with news of the pandemic, politics and protests; however, our environmental problems did not go away. Tania Ortega-Cowan speaks with Eve Samples of Friends of the Everglades and Ken Grudens of the Indian River Land Trust to get a status report on our waterways.

We’ve had our fill of toxic blue-green algae and red tide here on the Treasure Coast. Keeping our waterways clean is critical to our personal health, and Florida’s economy. On Monday, we checked in with two local experts for a status report.

ES: I’m Eve Samples and I’m the Executive Director of Friends of the Everglades.

KG: I’m Ken Grudens, Executive Director for the Indian River Land Trust.

ES: First of all, Lake Okeechobee is very high for this time of year. Just under 16 feet.

Remember that record rainfall we had in October?

ES: That puts us in a really risky position as we think about the 2021 wet season and discharges to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Because these can result in toxic algae blooms. The major contributor? 1000s of acres of man-made marshes called storm water treatment areas are being used for run-off from big farms, instead of cleaning lake waters.

ES: We need to shift our priorities, so that we are using those taxpayer-funded marshes that were built to clean water.

We can also change our own behaviors, by addressing septic tank leakage and limiting fertilizer use, especially in the rainy season when it just runs right off into the Lagoon.

KG: It’s about what’s running off from the land into the Lagoon. That’s really where the rubber hits the road.

One idea being investigated:

KG: So, for example, in the City of Vero Beach, they are looking at creating what is called a Storm Water Utility which would help reduce contaminants from run-off in the City itself.

Another?

KG: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection could be directed to invest in developing state of the art wastewater treatment processes ultimately could eliminate sewage bio-solids and therefore the need for it to be applied to Florida’s agricultural lands which is where the problems begin to occur.

In 2020, Florida passed the Clean Waterways Act.

ES: We don’t feel it lives up to its name at all. So, we will be pushing lawmakers to embrace the pollution limits.

Last month, nationally, The Water Resources Development Act passed, which includes $250 million for the Everglades, and funds for the Treasure Coast. Also in December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted Florida sole authority to issue wetlands permits previously overseen by two federal agencies.

ES: It was proposed in the name of efficiency – for people who want to build on lands that have wetlands on it. We are extremely concerned about that at Friends of the Everglades. And if we’re trying to build faster – well, that might be good for short term profits for some folks, but as we’ve seen in recent years in Florida, we all pay collectively when we’re not protecting our waterways. It hurts our economy when our water’s green. It hurts our health. It hurts tourism. A lot of the onus now falls on us as residents to speak up if we see wetlands being built on that shouldn’t be.

The Army Corps Lake Management Plan is developing the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.

ES: It’s important for Floridians to weigh in on the outcome of that new lake plan because it will dramatically influence the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

You can find that and weigh in here: https://www.everglades.org/tell-the-army-corps-to-fix-the-flo/

KG: I think the more individuals can communicate with their local legislators the better. Some estimate the price tag to restore our State’s water in the order of 50 billion dollars. But you have to start somewhere.

Learn more here:

https://www.everglades.org/

https://www.irlt.org/