Today, I begin a new blog section, called the “River Warrior Times.” This bi-weekly summary is meant for the general public who may not utilize social media. It is my hope, that this summary will help educate people as it is going to be a fast-paced late spring and summer.
This year, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) was first spotted in Lake Okeechobee the week of April 5, 2021 and relayed to the SFWMD Governing Board by the public at the April 8 meeting. As the public continues to report these blooms, the Department of Environmental Protection has been testing for toxins. That’s helpful, but who is in charge of water quality anyway?
The Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the lead agency for water quality for the state of Florida. The SFWMD assist the ACOE with opening and closing Central and South Florida gates and working to build projects. The Department of Agriculture is in charge of Best Management Practices for Agriculture. Circling back, the Department of Environmental Protection oversees Best Management Practices for cities and counties. I call this THE TRIANGLE. Not one agency is in charge. According to Florida Statutes, the three agencies must work together. In 2019, Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 laid out the order for change to get these agencies working together. Since 2019, the state legislature and state agencies are charged to work to fulfill this order as the public pushes Desantis’ order or just their desire for clean water.
On April 10, 2021, the ACOE stopped discharging to the St Lucie River not because algae had been spotted, but because the Lake Okeechobee was evaporating so quickly the federally protected Everglades Snail Kite nests were at risks. Then, shortly after stopping for the Snail Kites, the ACOE needed to start discharging again because of torrential rains from storms that roared across the state filling up the lake again. By this time, the Department of Environmental Protection had found blooms at 121 parts per billion microsytin at S-308, the structure that opens from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, thus the Colonel’s decision was to send all discharge from Lake O to the Caloosahatee River (west) and none to the St Lucie. Why? Because of the very high level of toxic algae. Food for thought is also that the Calooshatchee has a wide marsh in front of its structure that filters toxins, the St Lucie’s structure is in deep water that fills up with algae, there are no filters…
This is good news for the St Lucie. However, there are serous concerns here as there is red tide along the west coast. Water managers and experts on the west coast note that scientifically the present discharges do not exacerbate the red tide issue. I imagine some residents of the west coast do not feel this way.
There is a lot of work to do. It is my belief, that the SFWMD continues to work it’s part of the TRIANGLE to cleanse and send more water south most recently by removing the Old Tamiami Trail to allow more water to go to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and amazingly the EAA Reservoir’s project partnership agreement was approved with the ACOE last Thursday -meaning construction of the reservoir can begin.
Remember, for water quality to improve, THE TRIANGLE must work together: Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Florida Department of Agriculture; and South Florida Water Management District .
SFWMD statement: Ops_Position_Statement__Apr_20_26_2021
Yet another situation that occurred during this past week, announced on April 22, 2021, the ACOE halted a USGS Sediment study of the St Lucie River that would have required the S-308 structure at Lake Okeechobee to open. Why did they halt it? Again, because of the high toxic algae levels. Read their official press release here.
Ed and I last few over Lake O on April 16 seeing some algae along the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time and before, Mike Connor, Indian Riverkeeper, and Paul Gray, Florida Audubon, have displayed on the ground photos of much concern. Reinaldo Diaz, the Lake Worth Lagoon Riverkeeper was the first to spot on east coast and John Cassini, Caloosahatchee Riverkeeper on west.
-April 12, 2021, cyanobacteria at S-308 structure at Lake O that opens to St Lucie River (C-44). Photo Mike Conner, Indian River Keeper.-April 15, 2021, east shoreline of Lake O south of S-308, aerial Ed Lippisch. Algae was also north of S-308. -Photos shared on April 22, 2021 by Florida Oceanographic courtesy of Paul Gray, Florida Audubon, Pahokee Marina. Looking a lot like Central Marine in 2016.
For three years, Mike Knepper of Martin County has been producing videos with a drone about the state spraying of vegetation in Florida lakes and waterbodies. These video are almost exclusively on social media and have started a movement that is “turning over the tables” as the Mr Knepper educates and inspires the public to push state agencies, particularly the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) to reevaluate motivations and outcomes of chemical spraying of floating vegetation, like water-hyacinth.
Recently, (4-18-21) the front page of the Stuart News ran an article by Ed Killer, entitled “Using Chemicals in Savannas Debated.” This article does not focus on Mike Knepper specifically but is a great guide to this issue.
Mr Knepper believes that there is a connection between the toxic algae and the chemicals that get into the environment as the chemicals cause the plants to die and float to the bottom and rot -causing more nitrogen and phosphorus to be released- thus fueling algae blooms. For example, a body such as the Savannas is connected to both the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon watersheds. The Kissimmee River is connected to Lake Okeechobee…
State agencies have been making headway with reflection, and redirection using more mechanical means etc, however; there is much, much more work to do.
I recognize the serious conundrum as an overabundance of floating plants can occur very quickly and explode into population that inhibits functioning flood control, endangering us all.
Mr Knepper says, “The plants? Why are they there ? This is Mother Nature trying to fix things! She is trying to take up all the phosphors and nitrogen through those plants!”
Is there a better balance? Is spraying, indeed, adding to the toxic algae blooms? Until the next River Warrior Times. Keep fighting!