Tag Archives: Strong fertilizer ordinances

Harmful Algal Blooms, (HABs), St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

August 24, 2014 photograph of blue-green algae bloom east of S-308, Lake Okeechobee/C-44 Canal area/ (Photo courtesy of Paul Shindel.
August 24, 2014 photograph of blue-green algae bloom east of S-308, Lake Okeechobee/C-44 Canal area. (Photo courtesy of Paul Shindel.

Does the above photo make your stomach turn? What is it?

It is a HAB or Harmful Algae Bloom, taken four days ago, right here in Martin County.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “over the past century, alterations of land use and acceleration in the rate of cultural eutrophication have led to widespread increases in harmful algal blooms in Florida, including toxin-producing species.”

First,  what is “eutrophication” and why is it “cultural”?

Eutrophication is is when a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as synthetic phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen and a “bloom.” These algae blooms can be toxic.

“Cultural means “created by humans.”

So what are we doing about this especially since “we” caused it?

In 1997 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection formed a Task Force on Harmful Algae Blooms and in 1999 they produced a scientific document, a White Paper: HARMFUL ALGAE BLOOMS, (http://myfwc.com/media/202228/HAB_whitepaper2006_UPDATE.pdfIt is extensive. 

In my opinion, as usual, our state governors and legislatures did not pay significant attention to these studies, and failed to implement policies that would help overcome this crisis issue. How many of them even read the report?

Case in point, recently, it was the local governments and local residents of the towns, cities and counties along the west and east coasts of Florida who advocated and achieved strong fertilizer ordinances not allowing fertilizer use during the rainy season while the state continues to fight and support less restrictive rules.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website there are four ongoing studies regarding HABs in Florida: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/research/scientific-products/)

1. Time-Series Sampling in Pinellas and Manatee Counties) Researchers conduct detailed sampling to better understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms form.

2. Tampa Bay Monitoring Program Researchers monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay for the presence of, or conditions favorable to, harmful algal blooms.

3. Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program
Encouraging  people to learn about the program and learn how to become volunteers, collecting water samples around the state to help scientists monitor the Florida red tide.

4. Monitoring Toxic Algae Species and Shellfish in the Indian River Lagoon (2002-present)
Periodic testing of water samples and clams provides an early warning of bloom occurrences and shellfish toxicity and minimizes the risk of human exposure to saxitoxins.

Those are great present HAB programs, so why don’t we hear more about them and why don’t they include Lake Okeechobee, obviously the toxic algae is there as well…

Here at home, when the gates of S-308 open from Lake Okeechobee to the C-44 canal that is connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the algae in the photo above goes directly into the our river system.

Google Earth image of S-308, structure at Lake Okeechobee that opens to the C-44 canal where above photo was taken. This area always has some spill through the gates. Look at the agriculture right up to the lake...
Google Earth image of S-308, structure at Lake Okeechobee that opens to the C-44 canal where above photo was taken. This area always has some spill through the gates. Note the agriculture lands right up to the C-44 canal…

It is 2014. The state has been studying this problem since 1997. They do not have all the answers but we do know by now that HABs are fed by cultural eutrophication due to clearing of land that can no longer clean water on its way to estuaries, rivers and lakes; building of towns and cities that create concrete and asphalt barriers to water reabsorption;  fertilizer and other runoff;  oil/chemicals from thousands of miles of highway and roads;  septic effluent; canals and redirection of water such as Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee; agriculture’s heavy destruction of native lands and the fertilizer and chemical runoff associated with their business, unregulated golf courses fertilizer run off and re-use of high nutrient water resources….it’s endless.

It is said that “ignorance is bliss,” well the state of Florida doesn’t have that luxury anymore.

Blue Green Algae is as ancient as the beginnings of our planet...

Blue Green Algae. (Public photo.)

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USDA HABs: (http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0209332-harmful-algal-blooms.html)

FWC HABs: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/general/harmful-algal-bloom/)

Advertising for Clean Water Along the Indian River Lagoon

An ad running on the west coast of Florida in the area of Lee County, put together with the collaboration of interested parties and local governments, 2014. (Shared by former council lady Marsha Simmons, Bonita Springs.)
An ad running on the west coast of Florida in the area of Lee County, put together with the collaboration of interested parties and local governments, 2014. (Shared by former council lady Marsha Simmons, Bonita Springs.)

Billboards, radio ads, and commercials for clean water. They are already on Florida’s west coast and they may be coming to The Treasure Coast. Lee County and generally the west coast of a Florida have been the leaders in this promotion for educating the public to vote and act out of habit  for “clean water.”

I smiled a few years ago when I saw a Facebook post of a billboard on the west coast of a lady in a bikini standing in a pool of algae water holding it in her hands, the caption read ” Why won’t Florida’s politicians protect our water?”I believe Earth Justice, a law firm for the environment, and the Sierra Club helped fund the ad along with private monies.

Lately local governments themselves are helping create and fund these ads, like the one above for fertilizer. “Don’t Feed the Monster,” teaches the public not  to over fertilize. It was Sanibel and Sarasota on the west coast that started the strong fertilizer ordinances in their cities, somewhere around 2007. It caught on. In 2009 on Florida’s east coast,  the City of Stuart passed the first “state endorsed” fertilizer ordinance and then in 2010 the Town of Sewall’s Point went one step further and passed a “strong fertilizer” ordinance not allowing fertilizing during the rainy season with product containing phosphorus and nitrogen, the nutrients that “feed” algae blooms in our waters. Martin County and others followed and then this strong fertilizer ordinance idea, originally from the west coast, went up the entire treasure coast and beyond. Remarkable!

Will the next move be for Martin, St Lucie and Indian River Counties to have a couple of billboards? Martin County  is promoting the “Be Floridian” program or getting ready to….this fertilizer education program came out of Tampa Bay. Their ad is pink flamingos! At the beginning of every rainy season the city hall puts hundreds if not thousands in front of their building and around the city. These pink flamingos remind the public to “not fertilize during rainy season June-September.” The “Be Floridian” program promotes Florida Friendly yards with less turf grass and less fertilizing. It has been wildly successful and Tampa Bay has recovered 45percent more of their sea grasses than they had after World War II since the programs’ inception which occurred around ten years ago.

These ad programs are working and educating for clean water and putting pressure on politicians and agriculture to get more “on board.”

I think the ads are coming to the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon Region soon, so if you have any clever ideas please share. But one thing for sure, if I’m involved,  I will not be wearing a bikini! 🙂

All on Board for Fertilizer Ordinances-Indian River Lagoon

The River Kidz protest HB 421, Fertilizer Preemption, in 2011, Town of Sewall's Point. (Photo Nic Mader)
The River Kidz protest Florida HB 421, that would have preempted the fertilizer ordinance of Sewall’s Point. (Photo Nic Mader, 2011)

Fertilizer has certainly been a hot topic over the past few years and for me this movement is one of the great hopes that the Indian River Lagoon has a chance of surviving.

Fertilizer ordinances, specifically those with “black out periods,” started on the west coast of Florida over a decade ago as activist around Tampa Bay and Sarasota decided to fight for their waters. They have had great success after great losses and now Tampa Bay has more sea grasses than it did before World War II, due mostly to its BE FLORIDAN program that the National Estuary Program is now trying to bring to the IRL. (http://www.befloridian.org)

Although there had been talk years ago of fertilizer ordinances on Florida’s east coast, they really didn’t  catch on until  the Town of Sewall’s Point adopted a “strong” fertilizer ordinance, a “black out period,” or no fertilizer use during the rainy season (June-November, for SP)  in 2010. I am proud to say I was a big part of that movement with the support of the Sewall’s Point Commission.

It was Commissioner, to be Mayor, Jeffery Krauskoph, in 2009, who gave me the idea to push for such an ordinance in the Town of Sewall’s Point. The City of Stuart had actually passed the first in the area, however;  it did not have a “black out period” and the Sewall’s Point ordinance does.

Ironically, last night the City of Stuart was petitioned by fertilizer activists from Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St Lucie and Martin counties to push for a “stronger” fertilizer ordinance and Stuart in fact adopted, by first reading, the Martin County ordinance, a “strong” fertilizer ordiance.

The perils of fertilizer were first majorly documented in  the research of the National Reasearch Council’s, Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, in 2000. Dr Brian LaPointe and and Dr Margaret Leinen of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute both sat on this national committee and Dr Leinen even testified before Congress. (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9812)

The book scientifically states ” the problems caused by nutrient over enrichment are significant and likely to increase as human use of inorganic fertilizers and an fossil fuels continue to intensify.” The scholarly publication notes strategies for “control” and tells the story of synthetic fertilizers created after World War II and how they transformed not only agri-business but suburbia, and how this, hand in hand, with over development, has lead to the steady demise of our beloved coastal estuaries. In many cases, such as the Gulf of Mexico, fertilizer from farms along the Mississippi River have created “dead zones.”

I am on the board of Harbor Branch’s Foundation and I once asked Dr Leinen, (who now is now the Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences and Dean of the School for Scripps Institute of Oecnograpy in California,) “if you testified before Congress on this problem, why didn’t they listen; why didn’t they do anything? ” She smiled at me and kindly and replied, “Jacqui, politics often overrides science.”

I stood there and had one of my “realizations…”

On a positive note, what  I love about fertilizer ordinances the most, is that the “people” have embraced them as they realize the fertilizer problem is something they can directly and positively affect. As the public puts “skin in the game” for the direct benefit of their rivers, springs and estuaries, they expect this of their politicians as well. This is the  beauty and and power of fertilizer ordinances; it is politics on its most revolutionary level, that of “the people….”

At this time, “strong” fertilizer ordinances have been adopted in the Town of Sewall’s Point; Martin County; Indian River County; St Lucie County;  Orchid Island; Indian River Shores; Vero Beach; Brevard County; and are at first reading or being “worked on or discussed” in Stuart; City of Port St Lucie, Jupiter Island; Ocean Breeze; Fellslmere; Palm Shores; Melbourne Beach; Sebastian; Rockledge; Satellite Beach; New Smyrna Beach; Cocoa Beach and most likely a handful of others. Marty Baum, the Indian River Keeper, and others to be commended for taking the time to travel and advocate.

Like wildfire, communities along the Indian River Lagoon are taking into their own hands a part of the puzzle to save their lagoon. And the dolphins, manatees, seagrasses and and fish are smiling and hoping that this is just the start! As Dr Grant Gilmore said at the 2013 Harbor Branch Symposium, “it is the people, not the government, that will save the IRL.”