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.
Executive Order 19-12 “What can we do to achieve more now for Florida’s Environment?”
Sometimes all the bureaucracy of water management makes it difficult to understand how things work. Today, I am going to summarize the goals and requirements of Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 Section 1, C. in hopes of giving some simple insight into the responsibility of our state agencies to publicly come together to achieve the Governor’s goal; there are only six months remaining.
On January 10th, 2019, just days after being sworn into office, Governor DeSantis put forth Executive Order 19-12. This order has multiple components, but today, we will focus on Section 1, C:
It states: “Update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting Soth Florida communities, including Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee, and the St Lucie Estuaries. These updates will ensure the Blue-Green Algae Task Force has the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements.
This means that the Basin Management Actions Plans, the system the state uses to try to improve water quality through lessening phosphorus and or nitrogen runoff have to be “updated” by January 10, 2020.
Prior to the Governor’s Executive Order 19-12, there was no unified update date, nor a clear deadline date. Why? Because state statute doesn’t give one. How come? Because over the years special interest has lobbied our state legislature to make it this way. Governor DeSantis’ order complicates this by giving a hard deadline to find out how these BMAPS are working or not working.
An update is an “update on the status of implementation at the end of the first phase and an opportunity to provide recommendations for future phases of the BMAP.”
The three Basin Management Actions Plans that need to be updated include the Okeechobee BMAP; the St Lucie BMAP and the Caloosahatchee BMAP.
The agencies that oversee this process are the Department of Environmental Protection (regulation of water quality standards); the Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services (BMPs or Best Management Practices); and the South Florida Water Management District (water quantity or “projects)
You will see as you read about these BMAPS they are more of a soft than hard science. These maps were developed to meet a “total maximum daily load” reduction of phosphorus and or nitrogen, overtime – like 20 or 30 years!
To do this, basins and stakeholders are identified, and best management practices for agriculture and other stakeholders are implemented. Then the Dept of Environmental Protection models how much the best management practice will help remove phosphorus and or nitrogen and a certain amount of credit is given for using the Best Management Practice.
It’s kind of like giving a grade based on participation instead of performance. It’s time to raise the bar. In order for the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to have the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements,” we must truly know the numbers.
~Monitoring not Modeling!
P.S. Why are the three BMAPs together in the executive order? Lake O is discharged into the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee so for them to meet their goals, Lake Okeechobee has to meet its goals. For now, we are all connected.
excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen.
Although once known for her great life and beauty, modern-day Lake Okeechobee, has been dying for years…
Since the early 1970s, scientists were forecasting the imminent demise of the huge lake due to the tremendous influx of fertilizers and waste (oddly termed “nutrients”), especially from the Kissimmee River. The river had been channelized in the 60s, made straight, for flood control and the “benefit” of creating more agricultural lands. This was done by none other than the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and, of course, supported by Florida politicians.
All of these problems were one of the reasons that Florida politicians reversed course and took action in the 1970s to do something for the environment. According to the book River of Interests “during the 1972 legislative session, the Florida Legislature passed several land and planning measures, including an authorization of a major study on eutrophicationof Lake Okeechobee.”
Although, I could not find any of the original reports of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, (the original name of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – God forbid we say the word regulation!), I did come across the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Eutrophication Survey of 1977.
Nonetheless, there have been positive changes in the characters!
A huge thing that has changed is that the Belle Glades sewage treatment plant, that once discharged into the Hillsborough Canal and was back pumped into Lake O, ~approximately 1/3 of the year, no longer does. This is no surprise. When I was a kid in Stuart in the 70s, there were still houses along the Indian River Lagoon that discharged sewage directly into the river! GROSS!
So I guess the plot has changed bit, but not enough yet to save Lake Okeechobee. We need to change the channel and do what we have known we need to do since I was ten years old…
You can read the full 1977 report at this long link below: