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Polluted swampy river. Green water surface and thickets of marsh reeds. Seasonal flowering of diatoms Photo courtesy University of Florida.

Influence

Septic, sewer, agriculture all scrutinized by algae task force

Task force held its fifth meeting Monday in Gainesville.

A Blue-Green Algae Task Force wants Florida to consider an expansion of restrictions on new septic tanks.

At a meeting in Gainesville on Monday, members discussed the need for better monitoring and fresh investment into water quality solutions.

Scientists also discussed the effect of agriculture on groundwater and the long-term impacts of pesticide sprays on lakes.

“The intent is to be able to assess the performance,” Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer said. “In order to do that, we need to have the data to do it.”

Frazer stressed the reports coming out of the Monday meeting will not be the last produced by the task force. The group has already held meetings in Stuart, Fort Myers and Naples, all further gathering science, data, and citizen proposals addressing the threats posed by cyanobacteria blooms.

Draft recommendations from the task force identify a number of problems contributing to algae outbreaks. Those include “agricultural operations, wastewater treatment plants, onsite sewage disposal systems and urban storm water runoff.”

Task force members stressed the concern in groundwater problems, particularly as it relates to agriculture.

The problems primarily stem from the introduction of excess amounts of nitrogen, which feeds blooms like those that savaged the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in 2018. Those blooms, along with red tide outbreaks, cost the state more than $17 million in emergency funding last year.

Many of the recommendations involve Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). The task force wants to make sure there is communication between the Department of Agriculture and other state agencies regarding the monitoring of nutrients and timely, informed health and environmental public advisory boards.

“We just can’t throw it all on the Department of Environmental Protection,” said Dr. James Sullivan, a task force member. “The Department of Health has a role.”

Task force members stressed to state officials that concerns exist about all waste management in Florida, not just septic tanks. That means the state must push to modernize sewer systems. Some members of the public expressed shock at Monday’s meeting that many Florida cities still have wooden pipes in the ground.

Current state regulations prohibit permitting of new septic systems on lots of one acre or less in a priority focus area within an Outstanding Florida Spring watershed. Task force members wants that standard reevaluated to see if there needs to be some broader adoption of those restrictions.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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