Some enviro groups are never happy

by | Jul 8, 2016

After two environmental activist groups all but rejected Governor Rick Scott’s long-term plan to address algae blooming in and around the Indian River Lagoon, the Florida Chamber is firing back. Edie Ousley, the Chamber’s VP of Public Affairs, penned a memo to “interested media” redirecting attention to the unpleasant but unavoidable fact that septic tank runoff is a major contributor to the algae bloom.

So while some homeowners in the area gripe and point fingers at other causes, as many as one in ten with septic tanks may be contributing to the problem.

Many of the septic tanks are old and malfunctioning,” Ousley wrote. “State health officials estimate up to 10 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million septic tanks are failing.”

Environmental groups are quick to join the chorus in blaming others, and there’s a good explanation why: few individual homeowners want to spend thousands of dollars to replace their leaky septic system.  It’s an unseen problem that has little obvious impact on their immediate property.

For groups like and Earthjustice, It’s much easier, and much more lucrative, to collect small contributions from local residents, then use those dollars to target others. From Politico:

“The [governor’s] proposal is appreciated but is not going to stop the algae blooms and it’s not what we should be focused on right now,” said Chris Maroney, founder of the group.

“I think this is an attempt to change the subject from controlling agricultural pollution,” said Alisa Coe, staff attorney with the Earthjustice environmental law firm.

But as Ousley points out in her memo, plenty of more reasonable environmental groups understand the full scope of the cause of algae blooms. Some even acknowledge that it’s a relatively natural occurrence.

Full memo below:


TO:        Interested media

FROM:  Edie Ousley, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Florida Chamber

DATE:   July 8, 2016

RE:       Scientists and Environmentalists Agree: Septic Tanks Remain a “Major” Problem


Recently, media outlets have been seeking opinions from scientists as well as environmental leaders on what’s causing the algae blooms in and around Lake Okeechobee.

A recent POLITICO story showed there is agreement from both Dr. Brian LaPointe and Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, who indicated that septic tanks are a “major contributor” of pollution in local watersheds.

In addition to South Florida, Florida’s panhandle has also been experiencing algae blooms, which are common to Florida during the summer months.

The following are facts that have been recently reported that may be important to you as you report on the ongoing algae crisis:

  • “But Brian Lapointe, a research scientist at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said a study he conducted in 2015 found that wastewater from septic tanks causes algae blooms to grow significantly on their way from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west coasts… “It is obviously going to take some time to process and do septic to sewer conversions …,” Lapointe told POLITICO Florida. “But I think it’s great to make that start and recognize septic tanks as part of the problem. It’s not the whole problem but it’s part of it.” – “Some environmentalists decry Scott’s proposal to combat algae blooms,” POLITICO, July 7, 2016
  • I think his claim that septic tank runoff is a major contributor to pollution in the Caloosahatchee and Indian River Lagoon is an accurate statement,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “The more accurate statement is the algae blooms are a result of discharges from Lake Okeechobee.” – “Some environmentalists decry Scott’s proposal to combat algae blooms,” POLITICO, July 7, 2016

In addition to reports of algae on the Treasure Coast, a Wednesday WJGH report noted algae blooms in North Florida:

  • “’Everybody asks, South Walton Lifeguard Supervisor Luke Turner said. “‘How long’s it gonna be here? Why does it smell so bad? Why is it in my hair?’ Yeah.’ It’s an algae bloom, commonly know ’round these parts as June grass. The name is no coincidence.” – “June Grass: Gross, but good for the environment,” WJHG, July 6, 2016
  • “It’s a natural occurrence every year,” David Vaughan, Director of Beach Safety for south Walton said. “We get it when the air temperature and the water temperature spike.” – “June Grass: Gross, but good for the environment,” WJHG, July 6, 2016
  • “The first calls to the state’s fish kill hotline came in over the Fourth of July weekend. When officials from the county and the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission checked it out Tuesday, they found the water in the canal near Curlew Road was very low in oxygen.” – “Algae bloom in Lake Tarpon outfall canal causes large fish kill,” Tampa Bay Times, July 7, 2016


  • A 2015 analysis by Florida Today found septic tanks contribute an estimated 2 million pounds of nitrogen in the lagoon per year.
  • In 2015, Dr. Lapointe found that nitrogen-laden sewage from septic tanks draining into the Indian River Lagoon is responsible for algae blooms that kill seagrass and marine life.
  • Thousands of the septic tanks near the lagoon are located at homes built before 1983, the cutoff when state law increased septic tank setbacks from the water and the distance between drain fields and the water table.
  • Many of the septic tanks are old and malfunctioning. State health officials estimate up to 10 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million septic tanks are failing.

Dr. Lapointe’s scientific research shows that septic tank sewage nitrogen is a smoking gun that threatens many of Florida’s waterways, including the Indian River Lagoon.

Economies across the state rely on water, an abundant resource in Florida. Water issues affect these areas economically and scientific steps need to be taken to prevent and counteract this side-effect of water pollution, a point Dr. Lapointe stresses in a Bottom Line interview with the Florida Chamber. The Florida Chamber will continue to support legislative efforts to address septic tanks contributing to springs pollution and focus resources on cost-effective water quality improvement projects.

For more information, you can read about the Florida Chamber’s past efforts online.



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