After getting what they want (and still getting algae), Florida enviro activists have no one to blame but themselves

by | Jul 16, 2023

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.

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.


  1. Robert Himschoot

    I beg to differ on blaming septic systems for the algal bloom issues. If you knew anything about septic systems you would realize that properly designed and operating septic systems do not run off into waterways. Look for storm water discharges and direct discharge from wastewater treatment plants into the waterways. Even though in recent years wastewater treatment plants have incorporated advanced treatment there is still a legacy of sludge at the discharge points that are loaded with nutrients. Additionally common sense would tell you that the majority of households and commercial properties are on sewer systems and not on septic systems.

    • Emc

      There’s no such thing as a properly designed septic system in Florida where the water table is ABOVE ground part of every year.

      • Rick

        It not septic tanks. What about the phosphate mines that can’t hold back their run off water. Looking at a water shed map it shows the mines in Manatee county drain south….
        But they buy off political party’s and even with the mess in Tampa Bay they still get permits to keep mining.

  2. Anonymous

    First, I think it’s humorous that you say it’s the rich complaining about the algae blooms. Native Floridians from all income levels have been talking about this for many years. We all remember the beautiful Florida we grew up with.
    Second, show a pic of the algae in Lake O. It looks horrible.
    Lastly, trying to blame the algae bloom on residential homeowners & residential septic systems is ridiculous. Golf courses, which you did mention, are a big contributor. What about all the waste water that is “accidentally” discharged from sewage plants though? That would certainly account for a lot of the fecal matter. We’ve seen lots of those accidental discharges over the last few years.

  3. Emc

    Every water shed in Florida has different culprits. State regulators post an exact accounting of where blame lies in northern florida near fresh water springs. But they don’t do the same in south Florida. Development in general is certainly to blame. Doesn’t look good for the future of Florida.

  4. Dennis

    All we know about the problem. Let’s fix it. Cut the use of fertilizer. We don’t need all those green lawns. Do the hookups of the septic system or stop building houses. But we will keep kicking the can down the street and nothing will get fixed. Sad but true

  5. CaptTurbo

    This article is a load of bullshit! The lake is choking on the cane phosphate pollution. Misinformation is being hurled at us again!

    • Brian Burgess

      Did you even bother to read the UF study or are you just another enviro-bot?

  6. MH/Duuuval

    Capt. Turbo has a point: EVERY discussion of water pollution includes agricultural run-off as a significant contributor — not to mention animal waste — which seem to be absent in BB’s commentary.

    As for the class politics: The issue of Richie Rich’s big boat being slimed certainly has put some energy behind confronting the problem. This is a felicitous conjunction of the needs of the unwashed and the highly perfumed.

    Finally, if Ron could mind his own knitting — I know that’s no going to happen — some progress might actually be made on cleaning up our water. (Our bold US Senators, too, need to do more on this subject besides jaw and grandstand about commies and such like.)

    • Paul Reynolds

      The major issue has always, ALWAYS been water storage policy in Lake O and I suspect deflectors like Mr. Burgess are well aware of that. The lake, turned storage reservoir/algae farm, accumulates water in case the ag industry needs it but if sufficient rains come the coastal areas and estuaries are blasted with the excess. One, who cares, doesn’t need a study to see that when it happens.

      I recall the immortal (immoral?) words of Bubba Wade, “what’s the big deal, when there is a rainy season water is sent to the coasts and there is damage but they recover.” “Logic” like that created this mess and biased participants perpetuate it.

      Of course there are other contributors like septic systems and community fertilizer policy. Even Cape Coral’s proud grey water distribution contributes but the willfully ignorant Brian Burgess and the groups he slams are BOTH more interested in deflection than solution.

      • Deborah Coffey

        Spot on. And, deflection never solved a problem.

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