By TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers Editorial Board
Recently, TCPalm environmental reporter Max Chesnes asked a pointed question of five of Florida’s top water quality scientists.
Members of the Blue Green Algae Task Force, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who created the panel in April 2019, were asked: “What grade would you give to state lawmakers for their efforts to adopt task force recommendations to curb and clean up the water pollution that ignites toxic algae blooms?”
The scientists gave the lawmakers a grade of C. Clearly, they graded on a curve.
Based on the condition of many of Florida’s waterways, our elected officials and state agencies deserve a failing grade. Headlines the past few years illustrate the severity of the problems:
- Toxic algae blooms are becoming more common and widespread
- Record manatee deaths blamed on loss of seagrass habitat from polluted waters
- Red tide kills millions of pounds of marine life
- State’s BMAP program is not working
- Phosphate mining wastewater spilled into estuary
- State fishery managers may end harvest for redfish in Indian River Lagoon
When will legislators address the widespread problems facing Florida’s waters? Will protecting the state’s fragile waters ever be taken seriously by those in Tallahassee? To them, our waterways’ constantly degraded condition often only represents campaign rhetoric heading into another election cycle.
Summer is coming. Hurricane season begins June 1. However, over the past decade, Florida has developed a new season: algae season.
As temperatures climb, sunlight grows longer each day, energizing the green photosynthetic cells in cyanobacteria like Microcystis aeruginosa. The algae blooms, thickening and spreading more rapidly than a lie does on Twitter. In a week, a waterway as large as Lake Okeechobee can see a majority of its 730-square mile expanse become horribly slimed. It gets so bad each year, the algae bloom is tracked and measured — from space.
Lake Okeechobee is only one of the state’s 7,500 lakes, but it is connected to three of the state’s rivers and more than a dozen Central Florida lakes. The state’s network of freshwater rivers extends more than 12,000 combined miles. In some form or another, many are fouled. Excess nutrients. Poisonous chemicals. Herbicides. Wastewater runoff. Reduced flows of springs.
The fluorescent green algae gels at Lake O earlier each year, and this year began in late April. Another kind of algae has been observed in recent weeks at Blue Cypress Lake in western Indian River County.
Soon, signs warning against contact with our waters will be posted. To some of our kids, these are just another sign of summer’s approach.
One reason task force members issued a middling grade was there have been attempts by legislators to do something. In 2019, the Clean Waterways Bill filed by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic, passed. It created grants for septic-to-sewer conversions; expanded real-time monitoring of water quality and added oversight of sewage treatment plants.
But the bill fell short of making meaningful changes to control runoff from agricultural land or to give the state Department of Environmental Protection authority it needs to stop polluters with enforcement and penalties. DeSantis and the Legislature must rebuild the DEP following Rick Scott’s dismantling during his two terms as governor.
The first shocking summer of slime on the Treasure Coast was 2005, but it felt like 2013 was a turning point in the battle to change the status quo. TCPalm staff named it “The Lost Summer,” launching a major effort to fix the water.
Sadly, despite nearly a decade of rhetoric and baby steps in the right direction, why does it feel as if the Lost Summer of 2022 is on our doorstep? Little has changed, and our waters have grown worse.
The governor’s task force was a step in the right direction. Thus far, its recommendations have not being acted upon. Floridians are left to wonder if the creation of the task force, now in its third year, was just a political move or an actual step toward protecting Florida’s waters and those who work, recreate and fish for sustenance on them.
Clean water is a right of all Floridians. Will state leaders ever treat that right as a top priority, or will fighting for clean water only ever be a candidate’s slogan on a campaign mailer?
By TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers editorial board. Syndicated via The Invading Sea.