In a not-so-surprising turn of events, environmental activists in Florida find themselves facing the rather unwelcome revelation that they finally got what they wanted, and it backfired spectacularly. For years, politically-motivated environmental groups have pointed at Florida agricultural interests – “Big Sugar” – naming them as the culprits to be blamed for the annual blue-green algae blooms that arrive like clockwork along the waterways of the population centers of the state’s east and west coasts.
Their argument, in a nutshell, goes like this: if Florida’s sugar farmers would just kindly cease to exist, water management officials could then release the nutrient-rich waters of Lake Okeechobee and flood those sugar farms and the Everglades swamp, where the algae blooms won’t bother us rich residents with waterfront property in places like Fort Myers and Stuart.
It turns out, though, the environmental activists, like Captains for Clean Water, the Everglades Foundation, and Bullsugar (or whatever they call themselves these days) have been dead wrong all along. The latest algae blooms in Fort Myers prove it.
These groups have had some success in finally reducing freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee, despite the risk of a massive rainstorm or hurricane event causing it to overflow, causing a catastrophic flood. But never mind that. Instead, the whole of South Florida’s environmental community, led by Congressman Brian Mast, pledged to stop the allegedly “harmful” discharges from Lake Okeechobee, specifically because, they claimed, it would stop future algae blooms.
But science isn’t on their side. Data from a University of Florida study shows that, on average, about 70-80 percent of the freshwater discharge and 65-80 percent of the nutrient load to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries originates in what is known as “local basins,” that is, water runoff from residential areas, golf courses, and general population centers. Only a fraction of the nutrients that contribute to the algae blooms come from Lake Okeechobee.
Nevertheless, the loudmouthed enviro groups have been getting exactly what they wanted: reduced water releases from Lake Okeechobee, all to keep the algae blooms in check. The lake has slowly been creeping up as it accumulates more water and the floodgates are merely being “pulsed” rather than opened up all the way.
So, what is the result of the reduction in water flow from Lake Okeechobee? Apparently, it makes no difference, because there are already algae blooms being reported in Fort Myers last week.
— Hope Salman (@hopeontv) July 12, 2023
So if Lake Okeechobee only contributes a fraction of the nutrient loads in the Caloosahatchee River, and the water flowing from Lake O is significantly less than it has been in previous years, what’s causing the algae blooms?
Answer: Not Lake Okeechobee:
We’ve covered this topic ad nauseam because it’s happened before. No matter, we’ll do it again. A study conducted by Florida Atlantic University reveals that residential septic and lawn fertilizer runoff are the main contributors to the algae blooms. The research, commissioned by Lee County, highlights the widespread presence of human waste pollution throughout the county, with septic systems identified as a significant source of contamination.
The study, which analyzed surface water samples from various drainage basins in Lee County between January 2020 and January 2021, found high concentrations of nutrients, bacteria, and fecal indicator organisms. These findings strongly indicate that inadequate infrastructure, particularly septic systems, is a key factor in the declining water quality and harmful algal blooms experienced in urbanized regions such as Lee County.
Environmental activists have, of course, long pointed fingers at Lake Okeechobee and sugar farmers, alleging that their water releases caused the algae blooms.
Fortunately, Florida’s leaders this year have responded by allocating $125 million for infrastructure improvements in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Spearheaded by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and approved by Governor Ron DeSantis, the funding boost aims to facilitate septic-to-sewer conversions, making the process more affordable for homeowners. The hope is that these investments will bring about a new era of cleaner water in Florida’s coastal areas.
The revelation of septic systems and lawn fertilizer runoff as significant contributors to the ongoing algae blooms challenges the prevailing media and activist narrative that sugar farmers and Lake Okeechobee are to blame when in reality, the problem starts right in our own backyard.