My husband, Ed Lippisch, flew today from Clewiston to Port Mayaca, 6-10-20, 9:30 am, and this was the view of all southern Lake Okeechobee: giant steaks of cyanobacteria also known as blue-green algae. Unfortunately, pictures such as these have become commonplace and definitely existed years before we realized the frequency or the accompanying scary health issues.
“Eutrophication and non-point pollution,” words found in Florida’s scientific literature since the 1970s, have documented and warned of the deteriorating state of Florida’s water quality -due especially to agricultural fertilizer and residential fertilizer runoff. Recently elected Governor Ron DeSantis and the SFWMD have very much addressed this issue and I encourage all governmental agencies to become even more strict regarding such. We must do more. The greatest help of all could continue to come from increasing restrictions and documentation on non-point pollution supported by our state legislature. Programs such as “Be Floridian” and Florida’s Department of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices are noteworthy, but obviously, they are not enough.
The most important thing for coastal residents along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee to know is that the cyanobacteria is there, and fight accordingly. Presently, Lake Okeechobee is at 12.10 NGVD and in spite of recent torrential rains there is no pressure for the ACOE to discharge. If a hurricane such as last year’s Dorian comes to visit, it will be a different story.
I am sad to see these eutrophic waters, but forever grateful to my husband, Ed, who since 2013, has been our eye in the sky.
Because of my Sewall’s Point commission position, I received an invitation to attend yesterday’s groundbreaking of Martin County’s “Bessey Creek Hybrid Wetland Treatment Technology Project” ceremony located about 2.1 miles north of SW Citrus Boulevard in Palm City. I was honored that they invited me, so I decided to go. I have read about the project for a couple of years now, but of course I am no expert on chemical cleaning of filthy storm water running into our waterways.
On the way there, I was thinking:
“Does Bessey Creek really start all the way out here?”
I always think of the mouth of Bessey Creek, which intersects with the notorious C-23 Canal as the border of Martin and St Lucie Counties, when I think of Bessey Creek.
Driving so far away from the coast, memories came back to me of Martin County High School in the 1980s, and the great parties off of Boat Ramp Road! (I’ll stop there…. 🙂
Years ago, before the draining and canal building of the 1920s and after, these Palm City area lands were mostly “wetlands” but now they are “dry.” When I was young, it was mostly cows “out here,” but now it is thousands of people and agricultue.
The groundbreaking was very well done and elegant Vice-Chair of the Martin County commission, Ann Scott, led the ceremony. Commissioner, John Haddox, was there as well. Deb Drum’s team, from the county’s Ecosystem Restoration and Management Division of the Martin County Engineering Department is the lead organizer for the project itself. One of the many things they are working on!
The Florida Legislature, especially Senator Joe Negron, and the Florida Department of Agriculture also very much helped with this 3 million dollar “turn dirt” project. According to Mr Budell from the Department of Agriculture, the Bessey Creek project is one of about 10 in the state and mid-sized in comparison.
I am happy to see the Agriculture Department’s involvement as “Ag.” plays a huge role in the problem in the first place and without them, as powerful as they are, like it or not, we will never get anywhere…
After the ceremony, Tom Debusk from the company “Watershed Technologies” (http://www.watershedtechnologiesllc.com/technology/) gave a presentation explaining how the system operated. The link above is an excellent resource and also has previous articles from TC PALM.
As usual, during the presentation, I had to ask a lot of questions to understand, and Mr Debusk was very patient with me, but basically the remaining pathetic “headwaters” of Bessey Creek start somewhere between Boat Ramp Road and Citrus Blvd, close to where we were all standing. The county is leasing (for almost nothing) this land from the state. It will be up and running in one year.
How does it work?
Well, simply put, a pond like treatment area will be built and take diverted waters from Bessey Creek and treat them with a combination of aluminum sulfate (basically a salt that is non poisonous and has natural properties to clean water (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_sulfate,) and aquatic plants that will “uptake” mostly phosphorus, but also some nitrogen, and other pollutants from the water. So pollutants will be “separated” or “taken in”….leaving the water clean as it meanders to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
We must keep in mind of course, that phosphorus and nitrogen come from the surrounding lands: equestrian community; decorative plant farms; ranch homes; (fertilizer and animal waste….etc…)
I was happy to learn that the chemical aluminum sulfate won’t hurt wildlife (or people), but I did wonder about dealing with “source pollution” so we are not just paying to clean water that surrounding landowners are continually making dirty….I was assured that surrounding areas are being educated not to shovel horse poop along the creek and Best Management Practices are continually being refined. (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.html)
I drove off thinking feeling good and thinking about how “water/the river” is seeing her day in the sun. I also drove off hoping that with all of our various efforts we can clean up a river whose surrounding wetlands and highlands we have turned into a “drained ant-pile of people.”
….Kudos to Marin County and the State for their efforts!
There are many types of pollution that affect the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon but two words you will hear over and over are “point” and “non-point pollution.” These are important words to understand especially today as we fight to save our rivers.
Point pollution is basically pollution that you can pin-point coming out of a “pipe.” Point pollution is associated with industry. For instance, a waster water treatment plant that has a pipe releasing into the river is point pollution. In the late 1800s and early 1900s some residences, businesses and industries just let their pollution and or sewage go directly into the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Yuk!
This practice improved with the advent of sewer systems, septic and organized cities but there were/are still direct pipes releasing very unclean water until very recently. Recognizing the impacts of discharges from wastewater treatment plants, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Act (Chapter 90-262) in 1990 requiring waste water treatment plants to cease discharging their effluent, somewhat processed poop, into the lagoon. Because it was easy to pinpoint exactly where these industrial wastewater points are/were located, it is fairly easy to regulate them.
The lagoon and we have befitted from the Indian River Act 90-262 but we still have problems.
Non-point pollution, unlike point source pollution, is pollution that is hard to pin-point because it is coming from “everywhere.” On average it rains 50 inches each year along the Treasure Coast. Highways, parking lots, people’s yards, leaky septic tanks, and agriculture all combine to create a cocktail of oils, heavy metals, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants that run from flowing rain water into area canals and then straight into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
To complicate things more, cities and counties can regulate residential applications (for instance many have recently passed strict fertilizer ordinance outlawing the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application during rainy season,) but cities are not allowed to regulate agriculture even if is located in their city or county.
Agriculture is exempt from such laws. Agriculture is regulated and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture recognizing the need to abate fertilizer and chemical runoff does promote “best management practices,” helping farmers work to lower phosphorus and nitrogen runoff but this is voluntary and not required. Most farmers do comply but it is not easy to judge and measure so agriculture runoff continues to significantly add to river pollution across our nation and state as we know from our C-44 canal that dumps mostly agriculture basin runoff into our rivers.
You will often hear people say, “We must stop pollution at the source!” This is a good idea and our state and federal agencies are doing it with point source pollution but not with non-point source pollution.
Perhaps one day every yard and every agriculture field will have to take a portion of their land to hold rain runoff so the pollutants seep into the earth before they go to our waterways? Perhaps one day the Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agencies will become more hard-core rather than coming up with programs like TMDLs and BMP–Total Maximum Daily Loads for phosphorus and nitrogen and Basin Management Action Plans, because although those will help over time, like 30 years, we don’t seem to have a lot of time left.