Blue-green algae: We know what to do. When are we going to do it?
Blue-green algae is everywhere this summer.
In Colorado Springs, officials are adding enzymes to the water to clear up annual blooms. In Kansas, officials over the 4th of July weekend warned residents to steer clear of 10 impaired water bodies. In New Hope Valley, N.C., a dog died after swimming in algae-infested water of Jordan Lake.
And then there’s Florida.
Between late May and early July, the Florida Department of Health or local authorities issued alerts in Leon, Brevard, Flagler, Polk, Lee, St. Johns, Martin, Indian River, Orange and Clay counties. And on June 23 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that satellite imagery for Lake Okeechobee showed approximately 45% of the lake was either covered with blooms or had a moderate to high bloom potential.
How bad has Florida’s blue-green algae problem gotten? So bad that Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism website, addresses frequently-asked questions about the toxic blooms, noting among other things that “blue-green algae are most common in Florida in the summer and early fall, with its high temperatures and abundant sunlight.”
Come to Florida, see the theme parks — but watch out for the toxic guacamole in the water.
If only there was something we could do about this.
Wait — there is.
Back in September 2019, Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, issued a “consensus document” outlining steps the state should take to restore Florida water bodies that have been adversely affected by blue-green algae blooms.
The recommendations, had they been adopted in their entirety, could have made a huge impact.
Instead, state legislators and regulators took the path of least resistance.
A few of the task force’s recommendations were adopted as part of 2020’s “Clean Waterways Act,” SB 712. But most were ignored.
The bill didn’t require farmers to monitor or reduce pollutants running off the fields. It didn’t require more water testing at pollution hot spots. It didn’t require more data to prove that agricultural “best management practices” are actually working. It didn’t require the establishment of a comprehensive septic system inspection and monitoring program.
“Politically, it might be difficult” to pass tough new restrictions such as these, acknowledged Mike Parsons, a task force member from Florida Gulf Coast University, in an April interview with TCPalm.
But while another task force member, Dr. Evelyn Gaiser of Florida International University, agreed that “fixing this problem is a long-term process,” she also told TCPalm we need “immediate action.”
That’s been in short supply. And so, unsurprisingly, the problem not only hasn’t been ameliorated, it looks to be getting worse. Blue-green algae appears more prevalent, both here and across the country; it’s affecting more waterways and exacting a greater cumulative toll on marine life and perhaps ultimately human health.
We can’t kick the can further down the road; that road is coming to an end. But we could do something; we could do far more. Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force told us how; they gave us the road map.
Now we just need some leaders willing to use it.